Digitized by the Internet Archive
Processed World editorial
Work's Diminishing Connections 11
A Teaching Temp Talks Back 18
From Inside the Beast, Temporarily 19
Sand and Steel 21
All in a Day's Work 23
Kaiser Don't Care! SEIU Neither! 27
¥rorr\ Our Readers
Analysis of workplace transience
by Dennis Hayes
Tale of Toil: 2-yr. college teacher
by Sofia Furia
Tale of Toil: Temp agency counselor
by Joni Hockert
by G. Y. ]ennings
by Kurt Nimmo
Interview on Kaiser Hospital Strike
Interview by Lucius Cabins
Hot Under The Collar 31 More "clean room" dirt, strike settled
Poetry 34 Bates, Clark, Raffa, Talcott, Wayman
Thursday Morning 36
Small Is Not Beautiful 39
Byting Into Books 43
by David Ross
Tale of Toil: Typesetting at Bay Guardian
by Tom Wetzel
Whale & Reactor; Cultures in Contention
reviews by T. Athanasiou & ]. Goldthorpe
ISSUE 19 • Spring 1987
Processed World is indexed
in the Alternative Press Index.
All of the articles in Processed
World reflect the views and
fantasies of the author and not
necessarily those of other con-
tributors or the Bay Area
Center for Art & Technology.
Cover Graphic by: Doug Pray
Zoe Noe, Primitive Morales,
Frog, Paulina the Czarina,
Joni Hockert, Tobie Auter,
Lucius Cabins, Sofia Furia,
Resident Peagan, Dennis
Hayes, Emily Post-it, Sarkis
Manouchian, Florence Bums,
Ana Logue, Louis Michael-
son, Maxine Holz, Chaz
Bufe, David Ross, Doug P.,
Linda Thomas, JRS, DS
Black, RL Tripp, R Boyarsky
and many others...
Processed World is a project
of the Bay Area Center for
Art & Technology, a California
BACAT's mailing address is
37 Clementina St., San Fran-
cisco, CA 94105. Annual mem-
berships in BACAT are $25
and include a free subscription
to Processed World magazine.
Write for more information.
With Processed World 19 we return,
flushed, but unchaster\ed, from our special
sex issue with a focus on a neglected
feature of modem life— workplace tran-
America is becoming a land of transient
workers and moveable workplaces. The job
turnover rate, supplemented by wave
after wave of layoffs and forced early re-
tirements, is cresting higher and higher. In
this issue, we look not so much at the
movement of workers away from old-line,
dying American industries, but rather at
the more aimless flow into and out of the
new service, office, and electronics sector
jobs. Where is the Information Age takir\g
According to a Harper's Index item
(September, 1986), the geographic center
of the U.S. population is moving west by
58 feet and south by 29 feet each day.
Whether they depart from the drying husks
of Eastern factory towns or from the bul-
ging shantytowns of Central America and
Asia, the white, black, brown, and yel-
low emigres arrive in patchwork urban
habitats that offer very little community
stability and even less job security. Sta-
bility and security of this sort are going
the way of the manual typewriter
and the great Amazon jungles. In
place of the union hiring hall and
the "permanent" full-time worker
looms a "personnel services" indus-
try that traffics in temporary and
part-time workers, who comprise
an ever larger proportion of the
To a great extent, the new workplace
transcience reflects the rise of low-paying,
boring, and often dangerous "processing"
jobs that no one can tolerate indefinitely —
or even, it seems, for more than 20-30
hours a week. Likewise notorious is the
upper-tier job-hopping of salaried "profes-
sionals," whose career trajectories are des-
cribed increasingly as "lateral movement."
Upward mobility, that hallowed American
artifice, is today more elusive than
Does the growth in temporary and part-
time work signal progress— a release from
unsatisfying, fuU-time work? Does increased
job turnover fulfill popular aspirations
for greater individual autonomy? Probably.
But what are the implications of work-
place transience for workers — and for the
Throughout contemporary American life,
there remains much to rebel against and to
fight for. Many people might even agree
on a limited agenda for social change. But
what happens when people don't stay in
one place long enough to develop common
agendas, or, more important, meaningful
ties to other people? Rootless people can
and do rebel. But they rarely do so in
groups. Instead, the social entropy of tran-
sience constricts the channels of rebellion
to the most convenient, individual options —
quitting frustrating jobs, moving away from
uncomfortable sodal relationships, escaping
disconcerting persor\al affairs, dodging a
"bad record." Drifting, like gothic cowboys,
through town after town.
Neighborhoods, commimities, and work-
place associations create bonds between
people, a melding of personal and sodal
identity. These bonds can impede the mobi-
lity that capital, always seeking more profit-
able horizons, historically has
imposed upon labor. A people
unattached to one another are
more likely to move where
business needs them and to
pursue its exaggerated, com-
petitively derived dreams of
isolated good fortune. This is
why a transient workforce has
long been attractive to western capitalism,
especicilly during periods of rapid struc-
tural decay and transition.
The personal autonomy to leave oppres-
sive jobs, to "move on," is often the best
option for individuals. During the current
realignment of capital and culture, how-
ever, imbridled individual mobility gives
free rein to capital's most rapacious and
What happens when workers come and
go with increasing frequency from job to
job? A cluster of articles explores this ques-
tion — and raises others. In "Itinerant Cul-
tures, Lonely Trails, Work's Diminishing
Connections," Dermis Hayes examines the
impermanence and loneliness of Silicon
Valley work. Electronics has become Ameri-
ca's largest manufacturing sector. But un-
like auto, steel and previous such employers,
volatile electrorucs firms rely essentially on
a transient workforce. With the deploy-
ment of immigrant, temporary, and highly
mobile professional workers, workplace
organizing — and by implication, the power
to strike for better conditions, wages, and
benefits— has eluded high-tech workers. Is
the workplace vanishing as a focus
for collective rebellion? As electronics
products assist in the economic tran-
sition to more servile, machine-paced
office and shop work, workplace
transience is structured into more and
more occupations. In "Small Is Not
Beautiful" Tom Wetzel describes the
discontents and hypocrisy of the 5F Bay
Guardian, a rationally known "progressive"
San Francisco weekly that has buffeted its
workers with job-displacing automation
and willfuU neglect. Wetzel documents
failed attempts to organize among workers
made transient by low pay and by part-
time job assignments.
T A L
The author is heartened by the success
of the Industrial Workers of the World
(IWW), who vigorously, if temporarily,
organized transient workers early in
this century. At that time, however, the
spirit of rebellion was given an immediately
social outlook by the practical, often revo-
lutionary, trade uiuon traditions of Euro-
pean immigrant workers. More recently,
American uiuor« have lined up with baiUcs
to sell credit cards, have co-engineered
CIA-backed intrigues from the Philippines
to El Salvador, and have milked dwindling
pension funds to the exclusion of work-
place organizing. Today's immigrants are,
as always hopeful. But unlike their Euro-
pean forebears, many arrive from lands
where workplace organizing is greeted with
American-supplied bullets fired by Ameri-
Sophia Furia's "A Teaching Temp Talks
Back" is a visceral expose of a public uiu-
versity /community college system in dis-
array and of the milieu of underpaid and
overworked part-time teachers that increa-
singly populate its faculty positions. S.F.
describes the stodgy cynicism among tenured
faculty, the bitter ironies that confront
teachers who care about education, and
the underdevelopment of fraternity among
part-time teachers. Joni Hockert's view is
'Trom Inside the Beast — Temporarily." A
placement counselor for a temporary agency,
Hockert tells all, including how temps
and jobs are systematically mismatched,
how secret discriminations result in the
"release" of many temporary workers, and
— in the author's case — how temporary ten^
counseling can be.
I N G
Has a nearly unbroken chain of union
betrayals impaired our ability to imagine
collective solutions to workplace problems?
What happens when
workers confront, ra-
ther than sidestep,
"Kaiser Don't Care,
SEIU Neither" is a
brief account of a
strike by health care
workers that ended in
qualified defeat. But a special PW interview
(by Lucius Cabins) with activists critical
of, yet sympathetic to their union gene-
rates provocative dialogue and insights into
the dilemma of workplace organizing. Our
periodic colunm Hot Under The Collar re-
turns in this issue with a report on the
unlikely settlement of a bitter and often
violent strike by Hispanic frozen produce
workers in Watsonville, California (see PW
15 and 16) and the microchip industry's curious
response to a study that found twice-normal
miscarriage rates among its workers.
Fiction is an appropriate genre for ex-
ploring the trauma of the job interview — an
occasion to which transient workers fre-
quently must rise. Had a rough one lately?
So has David Ross, whose 'Thursday
Morning" gets to the clammy heart of the
matter. Vignettes of American work and
its discontents are captured with angst and
verve in "All in a Day's Work" by Kurt
Nimmo. In the tradition of James Thurber,
G.Y. Jennings' "Sand and Steel" depicts a
bored accountant's flirtation with the box-
car transience of hobo life — and the hobos'
little surprise. Thoughtful reviews of Cul-
tures in Contention (Ed. D. Kahn & D.
Neumaier) and Langdon Winner's The
Whale and the Reactor, poetry you'll not
likely see or hear elsewhere, and your let-
ters round out the issue.
Our little surprise is that, in contrast to
this issue's theme, a semblance of stability
has insinuated itself into the PW collective.
It's not often that a core of willful people
can coalesce for long around such an un-
wieldy project. Frankly we're wondering if
we shouldn't begin to worry. The chaos of
production is somehow becoming more
tolerable, thanks to improvements in pro-
cess — and product, we hope. We've seen
the puffy face of the future — desktop pub-
lishing — and we're still blinking. But after a
cautious look, we're taking the leap.
Financial stability, however, has been
less forthcoming. We've managed to con-
tain, and even reduce, some of our pro-
duction costs. But we are about to launch
— gee, there it goes — er, just launched, a
campaign to increase our circulation. That
means higher production and distribution
costs once again. Wampum is what is
wanted. You could help us immediately by
subscribing now, or by renewing your
subscription early, or by giving a gift sub-
scription, or by suggesting a bookstore that
doesn't yet Carry PW, or by just leaving
one on a bus seat.
In the meantime, enjoy this issue, and
think about contributing to the next one,
which, among other topics, will explore the
health care industry from the inside out.
Take some time to write us a thoughtful
letter — we've moved letters back to the front
to emphasize PWs role as a forum for
readers. And keep those articles, poems and
short stories coming — hey, we'll read
from the inside out
We want articles, cartoons, photos,
Tales of Toil, poetry, etc.
DEADLINE: June 15, 1987
41 Sutter St. #1829
San Francisco, CA 94104
ULITABY WOBD PBOCESSING
I've been enjoying PW since #14, find-
ing your unfolding anarchist rejoinder
against wage slavery's netv/ork of ills
by turns entertaining, inspiring, and de-
pressing. The "bad attitude" runs rampant
through the military, you might not be
surprised to hear. As a survival tool, I
find it invaluable; for example, in some-
thing over a year of constant use, I've
come to view the Navy-ov«ied word pro-
cessor I'm not typing this on as I might
view a capable and efficient business
partner whom I privately despised. Sitting
before the only shipboard VDT with an
anti-glare screen and revising most of the
memorandums on a comfortable old IBM
Selectric don't Inake me any less un-
comfortable about helping to move bombs
aroimd the Western Pacific more efficient-
ly, and as my first and only tour draws to
a close, I'd like to imagine that an awaken-
ing sense of my own political importance
isn't doomed to wither with the realiza-
tion that I'm just part of one of this con-
sumer society's sick jokes. In a word,
I'm not thrilled by the idea of going back
to temping for General Electric.
Sometimes something clicks and my
nights yield more than static ponder-
ings of whether I'm dealing with love or
Sincerely, S.B. USS HALEAKALA
Dear Processed People,
Hi. Well here's the latest Twisted Image.
Our "Businessman Special" if you will.
Yea, we take our fair share of potshots at
"the Boss," "Mr. Executive," "Whiteman"
or whatever else you want to call the
strange beast in the 3-piece suit. But in
some ways I think that's a scape-goat cop-
I mean is it REALLY his fault??
The fact is WE have to take responsi-
bihty for ourselves for this abysmal work
situation (and that's never easy).
The reason most jobs are so boring,
meaningless and unimaginative is because
WE human beings in the 20th century are
so boring, meaningless and unimaginative.
The reason our jobs are so dull is because
our spirits have become so dulled. The
dismal hi-rise work environment merely
reflects our deep-rooted spiritual malaise —
an irmer drudgery.
True, a lot of work will always be boring
drudge: e.g. washing dishes, doing laundry,
making beds. But this culture's genius
for producing 40 plus full hours of drudge
every week surely reflects some deep-
rooted neuroses in the American psyche.
What I'm saying is the problem is more
a spiritual one than a political one. In
that sense Processed World has been a
rip-roaring success in uplifting the spirit
of the workforce. Keep up the great work.
—Ace Backwordsssss TWISTED IMAGE
Odditor/pubhsher 1630 University Ave. #26
Berkeley, CA 94703
Dear Processed World,
Before reading the article in PW 16, I
had sympathized with some Animal Libe-
ration Front activities, in both the USA
and UK, yet I felt that their militancy
was misdirected. That is, it generates a
'moral panic' against animal abuse, in
ways that divert attention away from
human abuse — be it massacres in South
Africa or state-sponsored terrorism and
torture closer to home here in Northern
Ireland. Also, the ALF seems to evade
the question of whether it's worth sacri-
ficing some animals in order to benefit
people, or it implicitly answers no.'
After reading Tony Lamanha's article,
I thought more about how to challenge
that loaded question, which assumes that
the products tested — drugs, pesticides,
cosmetics, whatever — really do benefit
people in general. I now see better how
the very existence of animal research
serves to justify proliferating thousands
more such chemicals. As the brochure you
quoted says, 'By law, we must protect
people from the potentially toxic effects
of these chemicals through testing with
animals.' By this logic, animal liberation-
ists are portrayed as preventing research-
ers from protecting us.
Apart from technically 'uimecessary'
cosmetics, even the 'necessary' drugs have
become so as a result of the disease-
inducing envirorunent that this society
has created and that the medical system
PROCESSED WORLD 19
tends to obscure. One of many examples
is the chemical input into the high-tech
agriculture that results from the logic of
From that perspective, perhaps we can
reformulate the loaded question. We can
value people more than animals and there-
fore opp>ose certain kinds of animal re-
search — not simply when it is cruel, but
also when it ideologically aids the chemi-
cal abuse of humans in our 'diseased
culture.' This perspective would be worth
developing in some detail, regardless of
whether the present animal liberationists
are inclined to take it up. More generally
the problem can be located within the
capitalist competition that generates new
chemical commodities as technical fixes
for social problems which themselves
arise from still other commodities.
This whole area would be of interest to
our new journal. Science as Culture.
[This new magazine is well worth check-
ing out, used to be Radical Science
Journal — write it c/o Free Association
Books, 26 Freegrove Rd., London N7
9RQ, England— ed.]
L.L. — London
Dear Processed World,
Met four of your workers at the 'Split
Shift' Colloquium in Vancouver B.C.
August 21-24, 1986. Really enjoyed your
(their) presentation, and as a studying
philosopher in the field of information
exchange, language poet, photographer
and (at the moment) layout production
person, can appreciate the situational
attitude you invoke.
At the moment, I am moving into an
analysis of the irrational (derivationally,
aperiodic) equations of expression map-
ping the psychological decenterings
which occur at the interface of the Marx-
ian concept superstructure (with reference
to the field opened by Gilles Deleuze's
Anti-Oedipus, and his superstructure-
superego [Marx/Freud] interrelation) and
the concept of electronic substrates (re-
ferencing Chomsky's work on depth gram-
mars); I'm wondering if you can offer
any assistance with this by way of refe-
rence or insight.
In particular, since moving back to
Toronto Ontario and obtaining employ-
ment, I have picked up a problem that
is annoyingly nasty. My new workplace
utilizes a radio station (AM frequency 1430)
which seems to delight in games of
Hegelian domination. Although I can
easily outline them (that is, induce dis-
semination beyond the stratified archive
of their reference), I can not undo the
para/situational focus of their panopticon.
Any suggestions, aid, insight, possibility
of inducing radicle alterity? I can't swntch
the station, or use a walkman, so I'm
probably going to have to find a way to
ax their medial substrate and induce an
inverse decentering of their focal in-
tentionality. I've been under this for three
On a lighter note, are there any speci-
fic areas you are looking for in theory/
image/expression? I have a 12 year photo
file of images 'significant' in a Barthian
sense, as well as several files of post-
structuralist composition. Glad to share.
Hope to hear from you soon.
Sincerely, J.D.B.M. — Toronto
Hi there —
While I appreciate your having printed
"My Date With Holly Near," I must cry
out in rage against your having described
it as "SATIRE" (!!!!)— yet should I be sur-
prised at yet another example of triviali-
zation of female experience by the pa-
In sadness & wrisdom,
Ann-Marie (and others in T.H.R.U.S.H.)
According to the dictates of the sexual
revolution and all self-respecting baby-
boomer married yuppie parents, I am a
failure. I neither coupled nor started a
family and I was stuck in a lousy job for
fifteen years. But I don't feel like a fai-
lure. To society, though, the never -married,
never-coupled woman is invisible, half
dead or a ludicrously frustrated spin-
ster whose tribulations evoke only amuse-
ment from the superior "fulfilled." We
don't exist, only happy married couples
do. The highest rated sitcom is about a
healthily sexual, wealthy traditionalist
obstetrician and his lawyer wife and
their numerous offspring. But it might just
as well be about a Neanderthal tribal
chieftain surrounded by proofs of his man-
hood. The undertones ring out paeans
to old, reliable patriarchy and to some,
apparently, the hope is held out for some
juicily clini-"joyous" lithotomy-position
delivery room scenes. (The star also has
a comedy routine out about his wife's
labor.) Meanwhile, the world is slowly
rotting from STD's, pornography and a
concomitant rise in puritannical repres-
sion, not to mention an astronomical
rise in lawsuits against obstetricians.
But I am outside that. In my case, it
was either accept the Yasir Arafat clones
thrown at me or remain single. I chose
the latter, with no regrets. (With relief,
too. They wanted to go out with me
again.) Of course, I can't share stories
about my children or spouse, because I
don't have any. But then, I also don't
have to worry about AIDS or penicillin
resistant gonorrhea, just sneers ("You can
talk if you ever have any children!")
I don't know what hurts more, not being
coupled or being discriminated against
because of the situation. But then I think
of the Yasir Arafat clones, roaming mena-
cingly in wolf pack fashion from singles
fimction to singles function halfway across
towm and I get down on my knees and
thank God I'm single and I hope and
pray that by this time they are married.
There is a person with whom I share a
mutual attraction, but he is outgroup (dif-
ferent religion) but far, far nicer thctn
anybody I have ever gone out with. I
don't even know if he's married. In fact,
I don't know much about him at all.
PROCESSeO WORLD 19
Maybe the way this crazy world is rotting
beneath its most recently acquired veneer
of hypocritical wholesomeness, I should
be glad it's only a friendship I have with
him. Maybe Somebody up there is look-
ing out after me. I may also just happen
to wind up having the last laugh, if a
somewhat grim one.
Anyway, issue #18 was a wUd one with
a lot to ponder. I found myself laughing
at some darkly humorous parts until
my eyes teared. And I'm hiding it under
Auntie Mimi — Merion Stn. PA
TOO STRAIT FOR HE!
Please cancel... if you can't make a
little fim (i.e. make visible) of gay men
from S.F. ya gotta be outa touch —
eat shit & smile,
anonymous — Boston, MA
We get a slashed cover and a vague,
though emphatic, charge — 'Itoo strait (sic)
lor me. " I don't know what to make of it.
It's hard to respond to shot-gun denun-
ciations. So here is a response composed
around the pellets.
Processed World just did a sex issue
and you say there wasn't anything, or at
least enough, on gay stuii. But to be ac-
curate, I wrote a Tale of Toil about work-
ing at the AIDS Hotline, Jeff Goldthorpe
wrote a fictionalized piece on a bisexual
man's AIDS anxiety, and Manning's article
on the sexual revolution touched on les-
bian and gay concerns.
Okay, there wasn't a big feature article
on 'the GAY ISSUE." And indeed, may-
be there should have been. There are a
lot of articles, graphics, stories, and
poems out there that PW should print and
doesn't simply because they don't come
One thing in the issue that I myself got
angry at was Ana Logue's Talking Heads
piece. That tautological bullshit about
heterosexuality being the "inerging of
male and female sexuality," supported by
a rather shaky Masters and Johnson study
was really too much to take. Only a kind
of misapplied sociology would attempt to
quantify imagination and as for connect-
ing sex and effort — how positively Roman
Catholic! Also, as a matter of fact, some
men climax very gently and only after
time am I aware of when they come. I
would never be boorish enough to ask
directly, so I inquire discreetly, "Is that
— Mark Leger
S13 HAIRCDT BEVISITED
Dear PW gang.
Great issue. Of course it did happen
to be on one of my favorite topics, but
that's no excuse. I don't have much pro-
found to say about the thang other than
it worked, read well, and had some of
your best graphics yet.
The one thing I can't figure out is what
Chaz Bufe means by "the $13-haircut
level of awareness." Is this supposed to
be good or bad? I ask because I go to my
neighborhood barber here on 16th St.
and he charges me $13 when he cuts
my hair. (Which is usually about a month
and a half later than would look best.)
Am I paying too much or too little? Is
Chaz looking down on me because he
gets $22 haircuts? Or is he looking down
on me because anyone in their sane minds
wouldn't pay $13 for a lousy haircut? Or
maybe he actually thinks that those of us
into that $13-haircut level of awareness
are the real coo7 guys, i.e. the blue col-
lar workers, etc. who frequent his theatre.
I durmo. I can't tell from his article. This
is obviously an important new concept
in political analysis and deserves clari-
Other than that, keep up the good work.
J.K., a subscriber — S.F.
(not to be confused with the J.K., a
subscriber — S.F. in #18's letter column.)
r— ^^5— n
1 sI 1
NOT ALL WOMEN ARE STRAIGHT
First I'd better say that I like certain
kinds of pom, hate other kinds & I'm
anti-censorship. And boy, did I have
trouble vnth Chaz Bute's article. I found
parts of the article simply annoying, and
other parts simply infuriating. In the
1 . I don't like the authoritative way in
which C.B. states "facts" that simply
aren't well researched. He says that the
anti-pom feminist groups ignore splatter
films & objectification in advertising,
which isn't true. WAVPAM, WAP and the
very scary NY group WAR all focus on
these areas — but it's not as press worthy
as the media-hyped "war on pornography."
2. C.B. says there's no evidence linking
pornography & rape. Actually, there are
studies which do make this link— the
link is as tenuous as it is in most "social
science" studies — but it's interesting. For
example, in a 1981 UCLA study a group
of 500 young men (white, middle-class)
were given five versions of a pornographic
story to read, which ranged from vanilla
sex between a man & woman, to one in
which the woman was tortured by the
man. 70% of the men found the version
in which the woman was in the most pain
to be the most erotic. 50% of the men,
when asked, said that if they could rapw
a woman and get away with it, they would.
(This compared to 5% of the non-p)om-
watching control group.)
3. As I said, I find these studies in-
teresting—and that's it. They are not
"facts" or "proof" of anything. And I
don't take kindly to C.B.'s presenting the
1970 Presidential Commission on Porno-
graphy and Henry Hudson as "authori-
ties" on pornography that I'm supposed
to trust. I get govenunent authority shoved
up my butt every day, thank you very
much. And since C.B. Ukes Henry Hud-
son's statement about the lack of "scien-
PROCESSED WORLD 19
tific data" linking p)om & rape — where's
the "scientific data" linking the state of
Denmark's deregulation of pom and the
drop in reported sex crimes? Couldn't
something else also affect the drop in re-
porting to police? What is a sex crime in
Denmeirk anyway? And whose statistics
are these? Why are we supposed to be-
Now we're getting to the truly fucking
1 . The idea that women objectify men
for money the way men objectify women
for appearance ("every bit as much, if
not more") is really insulting when you
look at the real economic reasons why a
woman (straight or not) might seek out a
man with money; and one line about the
"economic discrimination women face"
does not do justice to women's situation.
We know that women have traditionally
been economically dependent on men.
We know that single women support
children far more often than single men
do — and support them on far less. We
know that most poor people in this coim-
try are women and children. In light of
this, the stuff about women looking for
middle-class men to "entertain them in
style" seems almost gruesomely ironic.
2. "Most women are drawn to money
and power Uke buzzards to carrion." !!!!!
And most men aren't????
3. "A great number (of) women won't
even look at low-paid men because of
class prejudice..." The word women does
not mean "straight, white, middle class
female." More clearly: NOT ALL WOMEN
ARE STRAIGHT. And on: most working
class women form relationships with men
of their own class, at least partially be-
cause of shared backgroimds and interests.
Class prejudice? NOT ALL WOMEN ARE
MIDDLE CLASS. And not all working
class people are men, and not all blacks
4. The idea about women being able to
get laid more easily than men — C.B. men-
tions the risks of pregnancy a little glibly
for my tastes. (Think of the difficulty a
poor teenage girl might have in obtain-
ing reliable birth control. Or a teenager
in a small town.) And finally, C.B. men-
tions the repressive conditioning that
keeps women from satisfying their sexual
needs (with all those available men, the
implication seems to be — but since I've
already mentioned the existence of dyke-
dom with some heavy-duty capitals...)
I suggest that if more men could overcome
their repressive conditioning and explore
fantasies of loving men, there would be
more sexually satished men and perhaps,
but not necessarily, fewer Back Door
Yours in ire & anarchy,
Alessandra — Brooklyn, NY
P.S. Hated Wenda. Everyone hates white
middle class women. Cuz they've just
enough power to make it easy, and just
enough weakness to make it safe. Even
white middle class women like me hate
white middle class women. Like me.
A BOOI OF LOfE?
Issue #18 was interesting. My only
reservation concerns Chaz Bufe's article,
"Poles 'n Holes..." The comment about
St. Paul's attitude toward women is re-
ductionist and urmecessary; the quote
from the Bible was taken out of context.
In the same passage, Paul says, 'The hus-
band must give the wife what is due to
her, and the wife equally must give the
husband his due." (I Corinthians 7.3)
While Chaz Buie's claim that "male domi-
nance has its roots in antiquity" is true
for the most part, a skewed interpre-
tation of the New Testament, which is
about love, will not bolster the argument
Sincerely, K.M.R. — Norman, OK
Gosh! I'm flattered that you all thought
my article was so important that you de-
PROCESSED WORLD 19
aided to send your compliments. Now to
answer your queries and comments ....
J.K. — 7726 Back Door was sandwiched
between a hair styling salon and a poodle
grooming parlor (both featuring $13 cuts),
and it might have been my imagination,
but it sure seemed like an awful lot of
customers would be chpped and groomed
and then pad on over to the Back Door . . .
Sorry K.M.R., but Nietzsche was right
when he said, 'One had better put on
gloves before reading the New Testament.
The presence of so much filth makes it very
advisable. " Neglecting the fact that K.M.B.
cited the wrong verse (it's actually Ephes-
ians 5:22), the statement that this misogy-
nist declaration was taken "out of context"
is downright breathtaking. The entire bible
is an exercise in misogyny. I would advise
anyone with a strong stomach who doubts
this to read the miserable thing. A book of
love? Please! Consider this: "If any man
come to me, and hate not his father and
mother, and wife, and children, and breth-
ren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also,
he caimot be my disciple." (Luke 14:26)
A few other relevant passages, among
dozens I could mention, are: Matthew
19:12, 1 Corinthians 7:1, and 1 Corinth-
Taking Alessandra's comments in order:
I'm unaware of the supposed anti-violence
"focus" of anti-pomography groups such
as those she mentions. The 'foci" I am
aware of are attempts to pass anti-erotic
censorship laws (often in close alliance
with right-wing authoritarians) and verbal
and physical harassment of porn buyers
The point I made in reference to the
presidential commissions is simply that
these panels were both appointed by con-
servative anti-pom presidents, and,
especially in the case of the Meese Com-
mission, were seeking validation of pre-
conceived anti-pom attitudes. And they
could find no real evidence to support
their views! One would have to be blind
not to see the significance of this.
The results of legalization of pornog-
raphy in Denmark (a drop in the number
of reported sex crimes) are common
knowledge. See for example Look, 7-29-69,
and US News & World Report 10-19-70.
DAMN GOOD SATIRE!
Hey! It was delightful and entertaining
and p.c. and damn good satire to have
published James Pollack's extraordinary
feature: 'WENDA'. Great tag for a name
of this human phenomenon. (Was James
ever, in real-life, married to one of these
'Wenda' women, I wonder..? Wouldn't
surprise me.. Maybe his mother became
one!) At any rate, I think he deserves
the National Lampoon literary award if
there was such a thing.
Mean while... Overall, I found this story
feature to be poetic prose with poetic
justice. Frank Zappa would love it and if
it came out of his own think-tank, he'd
As to what "infuriates" her, please
notice that she doesn't deny anything I
say. She simply attempts to explain away
any responsibility women might have for
these situations, and to lay blame on men.
I deliberately used inflammatory termi-
nology such as "buzzards" and "carrion"
to enrage readers such as Alessandra.
For far too long sexual politics, especial-
ly in leftists circles, have been discussed
in terms of blame and guilt — the guilt of
men. And I'm sick of it. I'm sick of men
being presented as evil beings and women
being presented as non -responsible (and
thus powerless) victims. If you consider
women responsible adults, it follows that
they're responsible, just as men are, for
the maintenance of this sick society.
Women and men do "objectify" each
other. Capitalism has turned us into a so-
ciety of hookers and Johns — a society in
which men seek women because of their
looks and women seek men because of
their money and power. If we ever want
to move beyond this sorry situation, we
need to recognize how the attitudes and
behaviors of both sexes have been warped.
And we need to quit blaming each other.
record it with some of his surrealistic
jazz in monologue flavors. "Wenda" is
and was truly SUBLIME SURREALISM (!)
MMMMmmm! It tasted very, very good
to my mind, and I'm speaking as an
American woman in my 30s who feels a
revulsion to "those" kind of women as
much as Mr. Pollack, Zappa, Fellini,
Warhol, and Mr. Funt, and Ernie Kovacs,
and Nichols & May, and all the rest of
them did and do!
I was struck by the begirming where
it is described "Wenda was everywhere.
You never knew..." "...at the Ferrari place
selling Ferrari..." I flashed on two women
I know who sell cars. They're terribly
boring and pretentious himians, like a
'Wenda,' but they belong to another sub-
culture-group called recovered alcohohcs.
"They all had make-up on back to their
ears.." That struck a high note for me.
A Zappa-chord! And, yes, of course, to
simply simplify it all in one or two words,
this story-message is about phonies' and
'clones' who happen to be female. Zappa
did a song-talk-satire about gay-clone-
men, some years back. The phrase, 'tran-
sient sensuality'... I'm still pondering this
in various interpretations to fit my exis-
tence, but I do like it.
The reader must flow with the surrealism
of Mr. Pollack's writing as it goes deeper
and deeper in all senses of the word,
'deeper.' Soon he's satirizing the idiot-
clone-high-tech-white-me73 in his story!
PROCESSED WORLD 19
(That's how / see it!) I was acquainted with
Bukowsld. That guy is a 'pig' in the 1960s/
70s put-down sense of the word.
Oh! I noticed dozens of 'Wendas' in Las
Vegas!! Where else? Y'can't get out of
Vegas or Tahoe without seeing one or
accidentally touching one, as much as you
may try NOT to! Of course, there's 'SEXY'
Wenda-type-clones who pose naked for
assorted magazines that cater to unimagi-
native, infantile, perpetually adolescent
men, who for the most part have a dick-
head for a brain. (Though some of them
give good head, don't get me wrong).
Finally, "Womankind in the real"? That's
debatable, sir. You get pretty carried
away, don't you? Now your story is per-
ceived by me to being a nightmare-
creation by two woman -hating, miso-
gynists who suffer gynophobia, yet they
have a career in producing, creating,
MANNEQUINS for the most expensive
clothing stores in the world! They sym-
bolically "kill" the images their manne-
quins represent and try to sell to women
of the "civilized," white-world. The story
is two and three-fold as a reader such as
myself can see the maimequin, "Wenda",
became an actual human female and then
she becomes a maimequin and then she
becomes a human again, and back to a
maimequin where the two designer-low-
tech-high-tech-ambitious but disheartened
creators symbolically kill 'her' in a final,
angry gesture toward the world of manu-
facturing/materialism. I also see this story
evolving to 'making-fun' of male DOC-
TORS and aU that they've tried, invented,
explored, poked, probed, strobed upon
women, both physically AND mentally.
So be it. (This is after a 3rd reading!)
best wishes, A.S. — Santa Ciuz
A WORD FBOM PRISON
how the hell are ya, hmmm? Really do
hope all is well as you can handle it.
From the looks of it, y'all are still pushing
the boulders... ah, but i notice that you've
got a few more real proles involved —
And i notice that you've moved also...
hopefully for the better or at least with the
potential of getting better... It seems that
the collective has grown a bit and also
stabilized into something of a family or
menage of several, but i would be most
interested to know something of what has
developed besides the demise of Bank of
But at 17 issues the raison d'etre of
such an effort — with all its vituperations
against management, the state, and
(sometimes) capital — must be becoming
something of a fixation. Indeed, 'my' ar-
gument for PW is that even though the
accusations of "closet" whatever-ism may-
be true you are at least doing something
more than merely talking about some cor-
rect line or engaging in reifications as if
the occasional allusions to sabotage and
petty theft is of any real consequence to
the status quo. The average person thinks
in terms of marketable skills and career
opportunity as a result of the condition-
ing and education via the existing social
institutions and media. The pressure to
conform to this rat race is most evident
in the growing number of job-related in-
juries, illness, turnover and suicide among
the young conscripts into the job market.
You make this public...
In any case, one would think the point
of PW is to expose, not only the obvious
transgressions of capital but the available
alternatives as well. Indeed, someone
should ask how it is that so many of these
things one may see in the company or
upon quasi-anaichists or anti-authoritarians
is manufactured and produced by capi-
talists. How is it that there is little of real
value or use resulting from this 'milieu'
of the avant garde? Other than genres
of entertairmient or distraction what are
we to expect of these relationships — the
nonetheless wealthy socialists to the poor
would-be anarchists who eventually sell
out for the imperatives of existence as
just another number? We shall see #18,
19, 20, ad infinitum. Meanwhile the
ongoing worldwide civil war grows near
and more prisons will be needed or more
workers... and of course more computers
and data processorzzzzz.
Well, ya see how the whole thing is
he&ded for something only reformed au-
thoritarians can understand but if these
new prisons are any indication of what is
afoot then all that futuristic, monitored
workers, and taylorized work stations is
a certainty — not that it will be really
necessary for the average proletariat
but rather that it is becoming part of the
accoutrementation of the corporate state
and authority — but so is the failure of the
anti-authoritarian intelligentsia to pro-
vide that necessary orientation and dis-
cipline by example...
Most of the commodities, and social
services are developed and produced
via the machinations of the status quo —
but what are the alternatives? That you
or we the readers "live well" is of very
little support to those people who must
hve in the streets or/and fight to survive...
Therefore it is said that you only repre-
sent the symbolic and part time 'bad
attitudes' and at best the intellectual
dilettantes — and thus an animosity builds
in spite of attempts of the more expe-
rienced to maintain the focus and con-
scientiousness for what is crucial to any
real future choice... My personal hope is
that you at least succeed far beyond #18
etc. But it is also hoped that you realize
that what is (or is not) done today serves
to define future alternatives and the mat-
ter of choosing (you kno' 'solidarity').
Nevertheless, take care of yourselves —
Onward, Obiter Dictum
Folsom Prison, California
PROCESSED WORLD 19
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Lonely Trails, Itinerant Cultures
Work's Diminishing Connections
.merica's electronics industry cultivates the fabric cubicle partition.
Rising to the height of stockyard pens, the partitions, in all shapes and
colors, intrude nearly everywhere. They connect and isolate circuit-
board assemblers, shipping clerks, systems programmers, and market-
ing analysts. Alongside windows, even managers and vice-presidents
sequester themselves in the fabric corrals.
Enclosing assembler and executive alike, the partitions confer the appearance of social
similarity, suggest the unity of entrepreneurial purpose. But the impermanence of the par-
tition design — its quick assembly and disassembly — reveals deeper meaning. Expanding
and contracting with the fortunes of each company, the partitions shape the fragile edifice
of Silicon Valley. They are an emblem for the transience of its workers as well as the pro-
found loneliness of its work.
The industry has adapted the partitions and those who work within them to its volatile
project — making new technologies for which there often is neither precedent nor market.
Small or large, the electronics firm must cope with disruptive forces: instant success, ill-
fated market debuts, compressed development schedules, sudden product obsolescence,
unexpected and unrelenting competition, unforeseen "bugs" and disloyal financial sponsors.
These erratic forces prompt each firm to insist on flexible constellations of workers and
managers — in effect, to pass on its instability to the labor market.
Electronics employers are fickle. They fire and hire to automate a labor-process here,
relocate a plant there, work overtime on a product today, cancel or postpone it in favor
of another product tomorrow. It is as if America's largest manufacturing industry,! after
decades of development, still cannot make up its mind what, exactly, it will make, how
and where it will make it, or whether it is in it for the long run. This is why electronics
firms favor the impermanence of the cubicle partitions.
VOLATILE CAPITAL, TRANSIENT LABOR
The volatility of electronics capital is in step with the lurching rhythms of contemporary
capitalism. The industry came of age during the changeover of the U.S
economy from manufacturing to service-based industries, especially
to retail sales and financial services. Electronics firms
reflect this shift, since the industry's pro
ducts have made it possible
An abiding design
'Tor better or worse, a
group of workers is no longer 'stuck*
with each other at a workplace year in, year out.
Instead, a wandering occupational itinerary frag-
ments and truncates shared experience.**
PBOCfiSf D WORLD 19
of electronics technology — ever faster data
transmission — mirrors the priorities of an
economy that now enlarges itself by accele-
rating the circulation of capital, rather than
by manufacturing it anew. Or so it seems.
After the electronics industry itself, and
the military, the swelling "industries" of
retail sales, fast-food, financial, insurance,
banking, brokerage, and business services
absorb most new U.S. -made computer
productsj. In fact, these non-manufacturing
enterprises are among the fastest growing
parts of the civilian economy 3. Their growth
depends largely on the speed with which
they provide their services. Brokerage
firms attract more business by allowing
clients on-line access to market trading.
Banks make float-profit by processing out-
standing checks and notes faster. Corpor-
ations enlarge "idle" cash assets via rapid
currency and portfolio transfers. Restaur-
ant chains boost sales by delivering fast
food faster during peak hours. So profit-
able, and thus crucial, is the demand for
faster computer processing that electronics
products now become rapidly obsolete.
Electronics firms used to make products
with average market lifetimes of five years.
As of late 1986, it was 1.5 years and
shrinking!. This makes the entrepreneur
wary. His product lines — and his assembly
lines — are always changing.
We think of Silicon Valley as a manu-
facturing center. As it exports more and
WORKING TO LIVE
OR LIVING TO WORK???
Why have I declined full-time employ-
ment? I enjoy the flexibility, i chose to
hire on as a supplemental, a.k.a. part-
time employee, for a large computer
company in Silicon Valley three years
ago. During that time I have been of-
fered full time employment four times
and have declined. I work 4 days a
week, choose the hours I want to work,
and get paid a handsome hourly wage.
Feeling like I've been in a pressure
cooker for four days a week, I need
that extra day off to keep my sanity. I
decided some years ago not to "live
for work" but to "work to live." Every-
one needs to strike a balance between
their work lives and their personal
lives and I'm no exception.
Unlike a temp, a supplemental em-
ployee is considered part of the com-
pany by fellow workers and manage-
ment. I can participate in company
activities (i.e.: picnics, employee dis-
count club, Christmas dinner and
dance), if I choose. With the exception
of dental benefits and sick leave I re-
ceive the same benefits as full time
I am in an enviable position. Full-
time employees who do the same job
as 1 do are salaried employees, which
means that they do not receive over-
time pay. They work whatever hours
it takes to get the job done. In most
cases full-time employees do not re-
ceive "comp time" (days off in lieu of
working extra hours) but because 1 am
a supplemental employee, the company
has to pay me for every hour I work.
During peak periods that could mean
fifty hours a week (10 hours of which
are time-and-a-half) or in slow times
twenty-four hours a week. Fortunately.
1 usually work twenty-eight to thirty
hours a week. Longer weeks tend to
make me grumpy.
During a recent, massive lay-off at
my company, people with over fifteen
years experience there were laid off
while many supplemental employees
like myself were kept on. Why?
Supplemental employees traditionally
were hired directly by the company
to accomodate additional work required
during peak periods to "supplement"
the work force. The official intent is to
lay off supplementals or reduce their
hours during slow times but this is
The corporate mentality Is to keep
only those employees who are compe-
tent, diligent, cooperative, have more
than one job skill and are willing to do
whatever is asked of them (sound like
Superman?). !f a part-time employee
fits the bill, all the better. The company
gets more "bang for the buck," mean-
ing you pay them only for the "hours
they work " and the benefits are cheaper
The fact is that the U.S. economy Is
being transformed by the widespread
and growing use of part-time em-
ployees. According to a report released
by the joint Economic Committee of
Congress on December 19, 1986,
"nearly all new jobs created between
1979 and 1984 in the U.S. paid less
than $7,000 annually, while the num-
ber of jobs paying $28,000 or more
fell." The report explained the preva-
lence of low paying Jobs by citing dis-
proportionate increases in part time
work, including the redesign of full
time jobs Into part-time jobs.
Part-time work is on the agenda.
What will become of those who need
a full-time income in the growing part-
time labor market?
more of its manufacturing jobs offshore,
however, much of Silicon Valley has come
to resemble a sprawling product design-
and-development service for Japanese,
Korean, and other Asian-based manufac-
turing concerns,. In 1984, managers (13%)
and salaried professional and technical
workers (43%) accoimted for 56% of the
Valley's high tech workforce, while pro-
duction workers accounted for 30% 6-
This is lopsided compared with the 70%
figure for production workers in U.S.
manufacturing at large. The relatively
fixed, and thus long-term, investment re-
quired for domestic manufacturing is not
favored in the boardrooms of the venture
capital concerns and conglomerates that
increasingly control the Valley's electronics
industry and its entrepreneurs?. The en-
trepreneurial spirit that is widely believed
to animate Silicon Valley is really an in-
carnation of the gambler's lust that has
seized the American economy.
The short-sighted quest of its financial
sponsors and the fluctuations of its markets
make the electronics business iiJierently
unstable. Like the nervous contestants in
a vaudeville amateur show, electronics
entrepreneiirs must line up for the chance
to make their sponsors' money dance. In
place of the hook that yanks ill-starred
performers from the stage, a standard
clause in a startup contract allows those
who provide the capital to fire the start-
up firm's president at any time, for any
reasons. According to an ongoing Silicon
Valley survey, less than one in four firms
survive the rigors of startup— the rest
either fail or are "acquired. "9
Instability imbues the computer-building
workplace with an urgency that outsiders
interpret as the inspired effort about which
so much has been written. There are sub-
lime moments of excitement, of unity be-
tween workers and their work. But it is
the brief excitement of frerujied effort,
the soldierly unity of a military campaign.
Volatile circumstances create and dis-
solve, more than sustain, the fabled com-
munities of work in Silicon Valley. Sud-
denly or gradually, temporarily or perma-
nently, the firm's growth slackens, the mar-
ket evolves away from its products, the
work subsides, and the workers are reas-
signed or withdrawn from the front. The
ephemeral fabric partition ebbs and flows
while, expandable and expendable, the
itinerant worker comes and goes.
Following the trails blazed by micro-
electronics capital, the itinerant worker
travels from one company to another, find-
ing work where it can be had and working
fiercely until a layoff or another job looms.
The itinerant worker spans the occupation-
al gamut from microchip fab operator to
systems analyst, from assembler to engi-
neer. The itinerant's working conditions,
status, pay, and workday culture vary
widely too. His or her immediate guises in-
clude the temporary worker, the immi-
PROCCSSeO WORLD 79
grant worker, even the skilled "profession-
al. " Many are likely to quit, transfer, or
be laid off within a year or two — provided
their department, division, or company
lasts that long. Those who last longer
watch a revolving door of new workers
arriving and old ones exiting.
Doris is a single, 37-year-old working
mother who grew up in Silicon Valley. In
twenty years, Doris has worked as a cir-
cuit board assembler and production ex-
peditor in eight jobs with half a dozen
Silicon Valley electronics firms. Though
her Fortune-500 employers have been
the most stable lo, Doris has been laid off
twice, fired once, and has collected unem-
ployment three times. (She qualifies for,
but declines, welfare assistance.) Her long-
est stint at one job lasted nearly four years,
her shortest, several weeks. The day after
our interview, she lost her most recent
job, which had lasted nine months. Doris
is an itinerant worker.
Victor is an itinerant worker, too. Victor
is a single 30-year-old systems programmer
who moved to Silicon Valley from New
York in 1980. Victor's first electronics em-
ployer "flew me out to California and
shipped my car in a big moving van."
Since then, according to Victor, "it's been
one new company to get in bed with af-
ter another." In less than seven years,
Victor has held four jobs. Unlike Doris,
he has never been laid off or fired. In-
stead, he has carefully picked his next job
on the basis of his technical interest in
the projects each offered. Victor's interest
in his current project is waning, and so he
contemplates his next move.
As with Doris and Victor, expendability
affects the forms a worker's transience
assumes; in Silicon Valley, the Dorises
are laid off much more often than the Vic-
tors. Programmers' and engineers' career-
hopping is more Likely voluntary — planned
to minimize financial and emotional trauma.
When salaried workers move on, it is typ-
ically through a web of "professional
friends," a far-flung network of instru-
mental acquaintances who are periodic-
ally consulted and polled for access to a
new job. Firms encourage the networks
(which sometimes include wage workers),
offering bonuses to employees who bring
new workers "on board."
The networks, and the cavalcade of
changing jobs, breed disinterest in the
more traditional connections between
workers. For better or for worse, a group
of workers is no longer "stuck" with each
other at a workplace year in, year out.
Instead, a wandering occupational itiner-
ary fragments and truncates shared exp-
perience. In the shifting soil of short-lived
employment, the itinerant worker's roots
must be shallow, retractable.
When I asked Doris if she kept up with
workers from previous jobs, she was mild-
ly surprised by my question. "Not really,"
she replied, adding that she would occa-
i ti 1
"Hey Frank, this one's busted.
Why don'cha send to stock for
a new one?"
sionally get a call from a former fellow
worker. Regarding her current workplace,
she complained that "I have no friends."
She didn't really mingle much with workers
during nonwork hours because she was
so busy. Victor is less isolated from past
and present workmates, though he recalls
that at two of his four jobs, he did not
mix socially. Work cultures separate Doris,
a wage worker, from Victor, a salaried
professional, but their occupational tran-
sience imparts a common perspective of
detachment from the workplace and its
circle of acquaintances, neither of which,
after all, they can take with them to their
Itinerant workers in the electronics in-
dustry are distinct from migrant farm
workers who travel together from job to
job, whose work follows predictable seas-
onal rhythms, and who speak and act
as a community more or less conscious of
itself. The modem itinerant worker may
be fired in groups, but does not travel,
find work, live, or act with others as part
of a community, despite sharing similar
burdens. The burdens are many and not
strictly peculiar to Silicon Valley: the
frequent, unsettling motion in and out of
work, the deprivations of prolonged over-
time; the anxiety of little-known work-
place dangers; the shocking cost of housing;
the fatigue of withering commutes to work,
to childcare centers, to shopping centers;
and the stress of juggling it all. The itin-
erant tends to perceive these burdens less
as the common problems of a group of
workers, and more as individual dilemmas
to be ignored or suffered as best as one
can before moving on. Work's larger pur-
poses — if one can still speak without cyni-
cism of its capacity to provide for a sense
of connection and contribution to society,
for satisfying and healthful lives outside
of work, even for security upon retirement
— these purposes recede before the im-
mediate prospects of finding work and
once found, before the press of work's daily
Job turnover rates — the percentage of
full-time employees who resign or transfer
each year — provide a glimpse of the furi-
ous labor migration within the electronics
industry. In 1980, the American Electron-
ics Association (AEA) surveyed its (rough-
ly) one thousand member firms and re-
ported an industry average 26% turnover
rate u — twice the national 13.2% turnover
ratei2. The following year, a Dun's Review
report put the Valley's turnover rate at
over 30%. Engineers, it was said, were
"averaging a mere two years at any one
The turnover estimates are based on
nonexhaustive surveys, and should be
taken with the precautions that all sta-
tistics require. But the numbers suggested
a pattern: workers were not staying long
at the new jobs they were finding in the
electronics industry. This dubious job
security casts doubt on the electronics in-
dustry's heralded role as a refuge from
The electronics industry turnover rates
have slackened, according to the AEA.
Thus, 1985 yielded the lowest-ever industry
turnover rate — just under 18% (still above
the national average). 14 But the apparent
trend toward employment stability is bogxis.
The turnover rates exclude layoffs, and
layoffs have made frequent copy in busi-
ness columns during the open-ended elec-
tronics recession of the 80s.
If job turnover rates establish the pres-
ence of itinerant workers, layoffs augment
their number. Just how much so is diffi-
cult to say with certainty. Layoffs may or
may not be permanent, and are not al-
ways announced (for every five publicly
disclosed layoffs, a sixth layoff probably
occurs behind closed doors). 15 IBM for
years has hidden layoffs by its refinement
of intimidating techniques aimed at re-
ducing its permanent workforce: down-
grading employees, selectively applying
performance standards, and demanding
frequent or unpalatable transfers. "There's
a lot of turnover," according to an IBM
San Jose production worker, who added
that workers who fall from grace with
their superiors are "pushed" into resigning
when high-production swings wind down.
Excluding the large military contrac-
tors, Silicon Valley saw a loss of at least
5% to 7% of its electronics industry jobs
from spring 1985 through autumn 1986,
according to employment surveysi6. A
comparable job loss occurred throughout
PROCESSED WORLD 19
the industry. (It is not known how many
of these jobs were transferred offshore).
To these statistical casualties must be added
the thousands of early retirements — 10,000
at IBM alone, beginning in late 1986 — the
periodic furloughsi?, and the forced unpaid
"vacation" days, all of which burdened
electronics jobs with instability.
Taken together, turnovers and layoffs
probably separate at least a quarter of the
electronics industry's permanent workforce,
or almost one out of every four workers,
from their jobs each year. But even this
calculation, which is above the national
average, is wanting. It excludes the out-
side temporary worker and the legions of
undocumented immigrant workers with
which the electronics firms supplement
their payrolls. The temporary and the un-
documented immigrant worker constitute
the most underprivileged substrata of the
itinerant workforce and illustrate the sep-
arateness of transient cultures. It is worth
considering their lot in some detail.
PERMANENT TEMPORARY WORKERS?
Emerging in Silicon Valley, perhaps with
more intensity than anywhere else, is the
deployment of temporary workers as a sub-
stitute for permanent workers. "When
you're dealing with volatile industries like
semiconductors and electronics, " explained
the head of the Valley's temporary agency
trade group, "the role of the temporary
has changed to a detached workforce ac-
tually planned for by persormel depart-
ments." A Silicon Valley worker is more
than three times as likely to be a temporary
worker than elsewhere; within the com-
puter-buildir\g and related industries, this
figure rises. "The general consensus for a
lot of high-tech companies is to have 10 to
15 percent of their labor force temporary,"
according to a Valley agency spokesperson.
One computer maker. Convergent Tech-
nologies, uses temporaries for nearly 30%
of its work force. The temp's assignments
include the traditional ones of filling in for
fuU-time clerical /secretarial workers on
vacation or sick leave. But far more often,
"temps" are electronics assemblers and
other production workers as well as pro-
grammers, accountants, technical illustrat-
ors and writersig. The assignments can
last weeks or months, but increasingly
are open ended in accord with the incon-
stant demands of the computer corporation.
Permanent workers may be dragooned
by their employer into the ranks of im-
permanence. In a practice known as "em-
ployee leasing," Corvus, a computer-
storage firm, fired its technical writers and
then offered to "rehire" several of the now
jobless ex-employees at lower expense as
temporary workers j9. Other firms less
systematically displace permanent employ-
ees with part-time staff. (See "Working to
Live or Living to Work?" page 12)
Startup computer companies, liable to
expand wildly but tentative about their
future, are a natural employer for the
easily-riddanced temporary worker, who
supplements a core of dedicated "founder "
workers. But large, mature computer cor-
porations also rely heavily on temporary
workers as well as "supplemental" workers
— part-time persormel hired directly by the
employer. Hewlett-Packard, IBM, and
Control Data Corporation are among the
largest users of temporary and supple-
mental workers. H-P maintains its own
temporary agency and also contracts with
nearly a dozen outside agencies, spending
millions to keep temporary workers on
its payroll, mainly for production and
clerical work, but also for programming,
technical writing, and other esoterically
skilled work. The rationale? When there is
a slowdown, as one agent put it, "you
don't have those layoffs that put you on
the front page" — merely the orderly and
predictable release of temporary workers.
For example, in autumn, 1985, IBM-San
Jose, according to a full-time production
worker, quietly laid off "several hundred"
These unarmounced dismissals are no
less tragic for going untallied in local and
national media, and for eluding those who
calculate official joblessness; on-again, off-
again temp workers cannot always peti-
tion successfully for unemployment com-
pensation or simply do not bother. The
statistical fictions of Reagan's Department
of Labor have been compounded by both
IBM and H-P's claims of "never having a
layoff anywhere," since the hundreds of
temporary and supplemental workers each
employs and dismisses every year are not,
strictly speaking employees, and thus are
not counted by these clever firms as layoffs.
The advantages of employing temporary
help are not reducible merely to greater
labor flexibility. As the executive president
of the National Association of Temporary
Services, speaking of the booming Silicon
Valley temporary market, put it, the temp
"provides a buffer zone" to a company's
full-time workers, "shield[ing] them from
the ups and downs" of the economy. This
observation, really a recommendation, is
saturated with the worst paternalism, but
it also locates the temp worker in an eco-
nomic class that is well beneath that of
the permanent worker.
llie temp's pay and benefits, with which
the agencies are notoriously stingy, are far
less than that of nontemporary workers
performing similar work. The economics
are straightforward (see "From Inside the
Beast— Temporarily," this issue). The
contrast in pay and benefits suggests the
privileged culture in which the "permanent"
worker is steeped relative to the temp. 20
The temp's relative power and control
over a job is also badly compromised.
Some workers envy the temp's mobility
and detachment. With few exceptions,
however, the temp is viewed by manage-
ment and workers alike as a mercenary
whose allegiance to the company, and
thus to the job, is actively suspect. No
amount of reassurance and advertising by
the larger temp agencies seem to have
changed this prejudice. There is a conceit
regarding the temporary worker, as if this
status reflected one's inability to hold
down permanent work, rather than the
simple scarcity of such work. In conse-
quence, the temp suffers special indignities.
As a rule, the temp is hired to do the worst
(i.e., most boring, repetitive, tedious, or
physicially demanding) jobs on the slowest,
clunkiest equipment, under the least com-
fortable conditions. Thus situated, temps
are expected to perform to the exaggerated
standards advertised by their agencies and
to exude the unctuousness of the cheerful
subordinate. To make matters worse, the
temp is often exempted from informal work
rules and rituals, such as the permanent
worker's longer lunch breaks, late morning
arrivals, early Friday afternoon departures,
and extended breaks. Moreover, the temp
may be an unwelcome guest at the usual
gossip and kaffee klatsches. This is the
special "detachment" of the temporary
worker, whose natural allies, fellow work-
ers, are often unapproachable at first.
The infringement of the temporary
worker's rights is perhaps the greatest in-
justice. For instance, in a practice known
as "payroUing," employers may screen
prospective permanent employees sent to
them by a temp agency. As one employer
put it, payrolling "allow[s] us to test some-
one in place of a probationary f)eriod."
Payrolling may or may not lead to a
permanent job for the temp. The impwrtant
difference is that firms can dismiss tem-
porctry workers without even the minimal
notice or explanation given fired proba-
tionary workers. As it is, employers are
discouraged from hiring on the temp by
the substantial "release" fees charged by
the temp's agent.
"Payrolled" or not, when problems do
emerge, temps cannot, according to many
agencies' policies, deal directly with an
on-site manager. Instead, the temporary
worker must appeal to the good graces of
the temporary agent to represent him or
her in a dispute with the agency's "client."
Without so much as an exit interview, fired
temps may find out only that "there were
problems" or that their performance was
"unprofessional," generalities that are
hard to defend against. Nor are temp
agencies reliable defenders of their em-
ployees, since the employees are usually
easily replaced, and the agencies are pre-
disposed to accept the firm's version of
things. The firm is a potentially greater
and certainly more stable source of income
for the agent than the offending temporary
Some observers, especially those riding
the waves and charting the trends of the
future, put the best face on the emergence
of temporary workers, depicting them as
PkOCESSED WORLD 19
an innovative and happy medium for
labor and capital^. Here it is imagined
that temporary work fulfills the avoca-
tional aspirations of students, retirees, the
unemployed-in-between-jobs, and others
who scorn permanent work. There's no
denying that impermanent and part-time
work is well-suited to many schedules.
But the sanguine appraisals apply mainly,
I suspect, to the minority of well-paid,
highly-skilled temps. This is small conso-
lation for the majority of disenfranchised
temporary workers whose ill-paid and un-
stable assignments more accurately reflect
the unilaterally determined needs of in-
creasingly volatile capital.
The final tragedy is the temporary work-
er's isolation not only from the permanent
worker, but also from other temps, who
are freshly dispersed with every assign-
ment. No one is better suited to ameliorate
the temp's abused status than temp workers
themselves. Within this fragmented itiner-
ant culture, there is great potential, but
little occasion, for solidarity. Divided,
In the tumult of the electronics industry's
widely varying fortunes, as well as the
tentative atmosphere of the economy at
large, the temporary agency promises to
reduce production costs and is therefore a
growth industry. This promise is secured
by the isolation of the temp worker from
mainstream work cultures.
HERE TOD AY...
The least publicly acknowledged itiner-
ant culture is that of the undocumented im-
migrant jj. No one knows with certainty
how many undocumented workers reside
and work in Silicon Valley, which official-
ly hosts 320,000 Hispanics and thousands
more Taiwanese, Vietnamese, and Fili-
pinos. But in the barrios of East San Jose,
coimterfeit "green cards" — actually white,
with red and blue printing— are available
for $50-$250, some boasting the secret
codes of the genuine article.
Biased estimates abound. In 1984, the
Immigration and Naturalization Service
(INS) opened a special branch office in
Silicon Valley, claiming that 25% of the
workforce — nearly 200,000 workers —
were there illegally, that more were on the
way, and that it was high time something
was done about it. This was a staggering
calculation and a threat of wholesale in-
quisition; both were inflated, probably
deliberately. A year later, the Wall Street
Journal put the numbers slightly lower, be-
tween 10% and 20%2j. But by then, the
INS, as it has nearly everywhere, had
dashed its inquisitional designs. Instead,
it had capitulated to a familiar bloc of
Sunbelt political and corporate interests
who traffic in what the Journal calls the
"cheap, docile, and abundant" undocu-
mented worker. The traffic continues,
pushing, as it does, the terms of and prices
in the United States labor market down
toward the subsistence levels of the Third
Since the early 1970s, the U.S. semi-
conductor and electronics firms have been
among the biggest employers of Third
World labor in the U.S. and abroad. By
the mid-1970s, for example, the five largest
chip makers collectively had over 60 pro-
duction facilities abroad — more than these
firms maintained in the United States2^.
Many a firm has shifted work from Sunny-
vale to Manila as the fidgeting of cost
accountants dictated. Former computer-
game paterfamilias Atari relocated its
entire production facilities from the Valley
to El Paso, Texas, and then to Hong Kong
PROCESSED WORLD 19
and Taiwan; before it was through, 4,000
Valley workers were permanently disen-
cumbered of their Atari jobs. Through
suqh arrangements, North and South,
East and West are meeting, and not only
on the payrolls of the global computer-
building firms. Nowhere is this more ap-
parent than in the bargain basement of
the itinerant labor market in Silicon Val-
ley — the life of the undocumented immi-
My most frequent contact with undocu-
ment workers came while I was a tem-
porary clerk making pickups and deliveries
for an audio /video computer maker that
subcontracted work to metal shops in
Silicon Valley. Inside one of the shops — a
dirt-floor quonset hut in Santa Clara —
were Hispanic workers in rubber boots,
gloves, and aprons — and without respira-
tor masks. They moved about quickly,
stoking fires beneath vats of chemicals,
climbing up and down the jerrybuilt plat-
forms which gave access to the vats. Some
of the vats boiled; others, untouched by
the fires, yielded the smoke of chemical
reaction. The first time I delivered there,
the workers regarded me suspiciously.
They may have taken my tie, twill slacks,
and sunglasses for the accouterments of
La Migra travelling incognito. Then, after
my pick-ups and deliveries at the metal
shop became a commonplace, their sus-
picion gave way to silent grinning saluta-
Into the vats the workers dipped the un-
finished alloy chassis panels, nuts, and
screws I would drop off from the digital
camera factory. The foul metallic odors
made me want to hold my breath. The
bulb-shaped fans twirling slowly on the
roof provided little ventilation. After I
stopped making deliveries there, someone
in a position to know confirmed my sus-
picions: most of the metal shop employees
were imdocumented workers. I wondered
how much they were daunted by their
"alien" status from speaking out against
Much of Silicon Valley, as well as huge
swaths of the American Southwest, have
become a de facto Export Processirtg Zone
(EPZ) — an entrepreneurial no-man's land
where the civilized pretensions of the
above-ground labor market are checked at
the shop door. In EPZs in Malaysia and
the Philippines, or in the maquiladoras
along the Mexican-U.S. border, an elec-
tronics firm escapes taxes, enjoys the pre-
sumption of abridged labor organizing and
safety precautions, and employs young.
— Beauty's Only Skin Deep
Here she is
there she goes
mainly female, first-time wage workers for
as little as 70 cents an hour. In the United
States, by informal decree of the INS, the
same firm, or its subcontractors, receives
similar advantages. In the Valley, the
middling-to-small shops of metal plating,
printed circuit board assembly, landscaping
and janitorial service muster the undocu-
mented worker for $2.50 an hour or lower.
Even the Journal noted that "10,000 il-
legals [are] estimated to be manufacturing
printed circuit boards in Silicon Valley,
often at below the minimum wage."
Without them, the Journal speculated,
the local economy "might collapse."
The parallels between the foreign EPZs
and the underground neo-serfdoms being
carved out in the Valley run long and deep.
For speaking out against workplace dan-
gers, company-store markups, or a fore-
man's sexual advances in the Philippines, a
worker risks both current job and general
blacklisting within the EPZ. Not only can
dissident undocumented workers in Silicon
Valley be summarily fired; they must also
be wary of the dogs, handcuffs, and
searches of immigration police agents. At
intervals dictated by the complex politics
of immigrant labor, these agents may
suddenly round up hundreds of hapless
workers, preventively detain them, and
send many of them to the unfriendly
or indifferent governments of their home-
lands. The raid, like the blacklist, severs
the workplace connections to the immi-
grant's potentially most helpful companions
— resident fellow workers. Even the rumor
of a raid can result in preemptive with-
drawal from one's job so as to avoid arrest.
The temp's workplace rights and con-
ditions are shabby, confined by once-
removed ties to the labor market; the
underground immigrant electronics work-
er's rights are nonexistent and workplace
conditions generally much worse. This is
despite the frequent deduction of worker's
compensation, job disability and unem-
ployment contributions from the immi-
grant's pay — for benefits he and she will
never see. As one employer put it, "When-
ever there's an accident . . . , the Chicano
[Mexican-American] will stay home and
ask for worker's compensation. The Mexi-
cans, they work."
Undocumented immigrant workers are
so important to the Valley's electronics-
based economy as to be tolerated (but
only in their current wretched status) by
a revealing alliance of interests. During
its first week of business in 1984, the San
Jose INS raided several electronics work-
places. San Jose City officials, sensitive
to the importance of "illegals " to the local
economy, adopted a resolution against "the
unwarranted disruption of the business
community" as well as the affront to resi-
dent Chicano workers being shaken down
by undiscriminating INS agents. The City
Attorney explored means to prevent the
raids. The Police Chief instructed his min-
ions not to coop>erate with raiding INS
agents. Within months, a Federal Judge
issued a local injunction against the open-
ended INS raids, ordering its agents to
notify employers or to describe to them
each suspect before a raid. Chastised, the
INS has since relented, but not before
installing a resident alien database agaii\st
which employers can check the validity
of workers' "green cards." Under this pax
laissez faire, employers decide when and
against which employees to apply INS
heat; when INS agents come calling, the
employer can schedule raids to coincide
with a week's "vacation" for their docile
undocumented workers — or hand over the
names of troublemakers.
It is too early to discern the impact of
the new immigration rules, which are being
gradually introduced. The laws apf)ear to
offer hope to those immigrants both willing
and able to provide proof of their resi-
dency. Most, I suspect, will remain skep-
tical. National Semiconductor workers
tell the story of their employer's promise
of diplomatic and legal assistance to its
immigrant employees. When some of the
latter then revealed their improper docu-
ments. National Semi ordered them to
provide proof of legal status within 72
hours. In the doldrums of a sales slump.
National Semi fired those who couldn't
produce appropriate visas and then escaped
liability for unemployment compensation
In the shadow of unofficial sanction,
little light is shed on undocumented immi-
grant workers' jobs. No one, save the odd
underfunded legal defense fund or parish
food kitchen, ventures to tally their lay-
offs, injuries, illnesses, or wages. Stuck in
subcontracting electronics shops or even
smaller cottage-type operations, undocu-
mented immigrant workers are physically,
as well as culturally, removed from the legal
workforce. Without legal status, without a
voice, and without the active sympathy
and support of resident workers, they
remain vulnerable in the worst ways. Sili-
con Valley indeed might "collapse" with-
out them, but their plight remains hidden,
and they are ill-placed to help themselves.
THE DIMINISHING CONNECTIONS
The urge to quantify the itinerant worker
phenomenon is difficult to resist. But
lumping the temporary and undocumented
workers together with the previously esti-
mated 25% of workers separated from
their jobs each year by turnover and lay-
offs is ill-advised, even as an approxima-
tion. Firms that employ undocumented
workers do not always employ temps, the
former being an even cheaper substitute
for the latter. Companies that "lease"
temps for 30% of their workforce are
likely to issue fewer permanent-employee
layoffs. Moreover, the motivations that
impel workers along an occupational
itinerary are as varied as the itineraries
PROCESSED WORLD 19
themselves. Many workers attach a co-
herence to their workplace transience,
regarding job changes as the logical steps
of an unfolding career. Salaried profession-
al employees with skills in high demand
can do so plausibly; the less-skilled pro-
duction worker cannot.
What can be said is that transient cul-
tures saturate the electronics industry, cre-
ating an atmosphere of impermanence
among its workforce. That electronics is
now our largest manufacturing employer
may be prophetic. Thanks in large part to
the electronics industry, job descriptions
in the 80s read like recipes for workplace
Electronics products play a crucial role
in the growth of service-based industries
that offer low-wage, part-time jobs as well
as automation technologies that reduce
the manufacturing workforce. According
to a recent Joint Economic Committee of
Congress study by Barry Bluestone and
Bennett Harrison26, more than half of all
new jobs are paying less than $7000 per
year, a "disproportionate" number are
part time, and, we can safely infer, most
are unchallenging to jobholders and vul-
nerable to automation. These are the con-
ditions that favor workplace transience,
as the rising national job turnover rates
and layoffs tend to confirm.
Some workers, even in Silicon Valley,
manage to stay on at firms year after year.
But permanent workers cannot escape the
consequences of a transient workforce
around them. If their fellow workers are
forever shifting, the complexion of their
departments, shops, or labs can change
significantly within one to three years. The
contagion of transience may not ir\fect
every worker, but, as with the quaran-
tined survivors in Camus' The Plague, life
is not the same for those who remain.
The itinerant worker is as restless as the
microelectronics industry is volatile. But
the restlessness is disturbing, the mobility
—even by American standards — is dizzy-
ing. Like the American tourist attempting
to "see" Europe in two weeks, the itinerant
retains little more than passing interest in
the changing scenery of workplace and
Itinerant workers are, by tenure, less
informed about a specific shop or office,
its management, its labor relations, its
problems, its history. By that measure,
itinerants are less effective in speaking out
with the authority of experience on work-
place problems. It is perhaps too early to
pronounce with certainty, but the itinerant
perspective of a large and growing pro-
portion of workers probably reduces pres-
sure on the firm to correct problems, to
invest in and implement safety procedures,
to chastise or remove offensive managers.
This might help explain why itinerant
workers have proven elusive targets for
electronics industry union organizing, such
as it has been (see PW 16 "Unions? In
Transience clearly affects the forms em-
ployee resistance assumes. When manage-
ment policies inspire employee resistance,
its collective character is often preempted
or aborted in favor of individual meas-
ures. For example, at a computer graphics
company in the Valley, several technical
writers, including myself, quit as a result
of an overbearing manager. The departures
were staggered, and came after the founder-
ing of a quasi-organized rebellion against
the manager's crude wielding of authority.
The failure reflected our inexperience in
collective resistance, but also the less
troublesome option of finding another
job while biding our time as best we could.
This escape route was conditioned by the
availability of jobs but also by a shared
itinerant perspective: none of us had
planned on staying with this company. No
one plans on staying with an electronics
company indefinitely, even when one
would like to do so.
Whether our jobs are taken from us or
whether we leave them voluntarily, we may
or may not improve our lots by finding
work elsewhere. But by looking elsewhere,
we are less and less likely to address work
problems collectively, an option that is
fading from the realm of the familiar and
feasible. It's not that collective undertak-
ings are spumed, but more that they're
difficult to imagine while in the flow of
an itinerant culture. Trar^ience is diffi-
cult to share.
— by Dennis Hayes ¥ff%
1. According to an American Electronics Association
report, approximately 2.5 million people work in the
electronics industry, making it the largest manufactur-
ii\g sector in the U.S. Wall Street Journal. 9/3/86.
2. Only 15% of the U.S. microchip market "is geared
to consumer products (compared to 55% of Japanese
semiconductor sales)." Gordon & Kimball, p. 19, 1985.
A comparable proportion exists for most other made-
in-U.S.A. electronics, whose largest single market ($56
billion, or about 25% of total electronics sales) is mili-
tary, with the business markets cited next. WS] 9/3/86.
3. "The service sector (including trade, finance, insu-
rance, real estate, services and government) accounted
for 56.7% of total U.S. employment in 1940. By 1960,
the figure had jumped to 62.3% and then to 71.5% in
1980. In contrast, goods-producing employment (in-
cluding minii\g, manufacturing, and construction) shrank
from 43.3% in 1940, to 37.7% in 1960, and then to
28.5% in 1980." McCrate, Elaine. "Is it Trickling
Down?" Economic Resources for the People. 1986.
4. Dataquest, Silicon Valley Research Group Con-
ference. University of California— Santa Cruz. Octo-
5. 'The production labor force, which comprised 60%
of all electronics jobs in 1965, had declined to under
one-half of all electronics employment by 1984." —
Gordon, R. & L.M. Kimball, "High Technology,
Employment & The Challenges to Education." Con-
ference on Job Creation, Innovation, & New Tech-
nologies, Brussels, p. 25 9/2-5/85.
6. Gordon & Kimball, ibid. p. 25. 1985.
7. Gordon & Kimball, ibid. p. 15-16. 1985.
8. Rose, F. "In the Grip" Esquire February, 1985.
9. Bruno, A., J. Leidecker, & J. Harder "Why Firms
Fail: Patterns of Discontinuance Among Silicon Valley
High-Technology Firms" University of Santa Clara,
10. Teledyne Microwave, Eaton Corporation, Applied
Technology, Ampex, Memorex, and Varian Associates.
11. AEA Press Release.
12. Bureau of National Affairs, Washington, D.C.
13. Murray, Thomas J. "Silicon Valley Faces Up to
the 'People' Crunch." Dun's Review July 1981.
14. The nationzJ turnover rate, as compiled by the
BNA, has been rising— to 16.8% in 1985. This suggests
a trend toward greater workplace trarwience in industry
15. The impact of layoffs is obscured further by the
simultaneous creation of new electronics jobs. For
example, a Silicon Valley newspaper survey found that
between January, 1983 and March, 1985, 48 high-tech
firms laid off 10,000 workers while employment— in-
cluding military electronics work— grew by 36,000.
16. Aimual Plarming Information, San Jose Metro-
politan Statistical Area 1986-87, Califorrua Employment
17. Wilson, Rand et. al. "Do Unions Have a Future in
High Technology?" Technology Review, October 1986.
18. According to Manpower's Silicon Valley branches —
one of the largest — 45% of its temps are office workers,
23% are production workers, and 29% are "specialized"
technical workers such as engineers and technicians.
19. This anecdote was recounted at a National Writers
Union, Local 3, meetir\g in Silicon Valley, 1986. A
Corvus spokesperson would neither deny nor confirm
20. By 1986, the largest temp agency in the world.
Manpower, offered life/health benefits, paid holidays,
and vacation pay. But, according to a Silicon Valley
Manpower spokesperson, "the vast majority of tem-
poraries never use benefits because they don't stay
with us long enough." For example, to qualify for
one week's vacation pay, a Manpower temp must
"have worked 1500 hours during the preceding 12-
month period," i.e., nearly full time.
21. Toffler, A. The Third Wave. Morrow, 1980.
22. At a cor\ference held by the Silicon Valley Re-
search Group/UC Santa Cruz, 10/24-25/86, panels
presented smatterirvgs of empirical workforce sociology,
but not a smidgen of research on the traffic in un-
derground immigrant labor.
23. Other estimates, such as a recent one by San Fran-
cisco Chronicle reporters, put the total Bay Area un-
documented figure "between 150,000 and 300,000"
DelVecchio, R. and D. Garcia "Immigration Law is
Changing U.S." 1/26/87.
24. Keller, J.F. The Division of Labor In Electronics.
(1981) Women and the International Division of Labor.
Nash, J. & M.P. Fernandez-Kelly eds. State University
of New York Press, 1983.
25. Wilson, R. ibid. 1986.
26. Bluestone, B. and B. Harrison. Joint Economic
Committee of Congress, December 9, 1986.
PROcesseo world i9
work as a part-time in-
structor at a San Francisco
Bay Area community col-
lege. The California public
university system, which
includes universities, state univer-
sities and community colleges, was
designed in the 1960s (when there
was lots of money kicking around)
to enable any young Califomian
who wanted one to get a college
degree, regardless of economic
level. I myself was a product of
the education boom. Thanks to the
largesse of financial aid, I armed
myself (along with the rest of the
hordes) with my liberal arts degree,
ready to tackle the world. I'm still
tethered to the public university
system, but now I'm looking at it
from the inside as an employee,
and, along with my fellow part-
time instructors, watching it disin-
Nowhere do you see the insidious un-
doing of the promise of equal opportunity
as in the current California community
college system. With the passage of the tax-
cutting Proposition 13 and the election of
a short-sighted, "bottom-line" governor,
the California corrununity colleges had be-
gun their slow decline. Government funds
have been reduced to a trickle over the
last few years. Administrators moan and
groan over the restrictions imposed on
them. Classes have been cut. Tuition is
raised yearly. Attendance is down. Low-
income teenagers have proven to be a
completely expendable commodity in the
highly competitive, high-tech job market
of the 1980s, and the California system
of education has remorselessly abandoned
The university system is also abandon-
ing the very graduates it spawned— the
new crop of mainly extraneous teachers
in the arts, humanities and social sciences.
In the community colleges, the teaching
profession is slowly but surely going the
route of two-tiered polarization, just like
the thousands of traditional, skilled jobs
that are currently being degraded. On the
top, you have the twenty-year veterans
protected by the American Federation of
Teachers and an antiquated tenure system
in which incompetence, egotism and ba-
nality unfortunately run rampant. On the
bottom, you have people like me— people
who want to teach and therefore accept
low-rung jobs working as temporaries in
Budget-minded administrators knew it
would be impossible to disturb the sanc-
tity of the "ivory tower," so they found
a way to screw the new teachers— by simply
not letting them in. In California, whenever
a college-level teacher retires, he or she
is increasingly replaced by a disposable,
cheap, part-time teacher. More than half
of the faculty at the college where I work
is part-time and temporary. The ratio is
even higher at other schools. The "teach-
ing temp" is paid an hourly wage for class-
room time only. There is no vacation pay,
holiday pay, or health or retirement bene-
fits. Months like December and April are
total hell. While the old-timers bask in the
luxury of periodic paid weeks off, part-
timers get stuck with paychecks about half
their normally miserable size. Nor is there
compensation for classroom preparation
time or "office hours," the customary time
in which the teacher and student can talk
one-on-one. At the end of the semester
they 'let you go" — unless, that is, they
keep you on for the next semester... and
keep you on for the next summer... and
the next... and the next.
The result is that at the college level
these days, half the faculty are walking
zombies who are disillusioned, insecure...
and tired. Part-timers spend their off -hours
scrambling for other part-time jobs that
can support their teaching habit. I work
as a part-time word processor; an ac-
quaintance of mine tutors high school
kids. Many part-timers have families that
rely on their income. It's not unusual for
them to dash off after class, in a mad
race to make a decent living. Most likely
they jump in the car, get on the freeway,
and drive 45 minutes or an hour to their
next class at another school, or else they
run home to grade piles of exams and
papers, a grueling activity for which they
don't get paid.
As a consequence, part-timers hardly
ever see one another. I only know two
other part-timers at my school, and I see
them very infrequently. The implications
are obvious: we are too alienated, iso-
lated and enervated to develop the cama-
raderie required for serious job organization.
The AIT reps encourage us to attend their
meetings, but we know they don't really
represent us. We know we're going to
have to organize ourselves if we want
change, yet we're overcome with a para-
lyzing malaise, underneath which rage
battles bum-out. But from day to day we
mainly accept things, silently praying that
enough of the old-timers will die so that we
can get their jobs.
It's not just the part-timers who are
suffering here: it's the whole system of edu-
cation that's going down the tubes. Part-
timers, generally speaking, do not parti-
cipate in departmental affairs. Curriculum
and policy are decided by the twenty-
year veterans (the full-timers) who have
generally given in to their apathy. A more
cynical and beaten bunch you'd be hard-
pressed to find. For the most part they're
appalled at the degradation of education,
yet they're overcome by inertia. They shrug
apologetically when they see you in the
halls, stopping to chat about "how the
teaching's going," yet their primary goal
is to reduce the amount of work they have
to do themselves. Decision-making by the
discouraged is a dreary business. Policy is
either nondescript or totally inconsistent.
Passing the buck has become elevated to
In addition many full-timers strike me as
having completely lost touch with student
needs. Wracked by insecurity at being low-
level professoriate, and despairing at the
shrinking level of esteem society affords
them, faculty members unconsciously vent
frustration on their students. I've been ap-
palled at the disparaging words exchanged
among teachers in reference to the de-
clining abilities of the students. That the
students try their best, given inadequate
intellectual preparation in high school and
at home, isn't much considered. Nor does
it strike the full-timers that perhaps build-
ing intellectual skills in the classroom
first requires recognizing the validity of
ignorance and understanding some of its
It's funny, the community college teach-
ers seem to think that the professors at the
university level have it made because stu-
dents there are "so much more intellec-
tually motivated." But having just arrived
at the community college from the uni-
versity, I know better. Faculty alienation
from students— and vice versa- is omni-
PROCeSSED WORLD 19
present in the university system. Students
arrive at college less trained for critical
analysis than for stifling obedience from
which they understandably long to escape.
Oversized classrooms and psychologically
insensitive teaching methods have made
instruction in the public schools a matter
of power and submission. Professors at
the college level interpret the younger
student's indifference as "lack of academic
ability and interest" rather than a healthy
response to bullshit drudgery. Professional
egos get bruised ("why should I have to
teach incompetents?"), and students are
punished for it.
The academy gets its steam from intel-
lectual self -hatred. Professors rush to the
library in their off -hours for research, to
convince scrutinizing administrators and
fellow academicians they are worthy of
tenure. The competition is fierce, the work
ethic unbounded. Professors then carry
this weak-kneed egotism into the class-
room, where they try to impress their
poor students with what scholarly hot
shit they are. Students are then blamed for
not being smart enough to understand
abstruse, self-obsessive, disorganized aca-
demic mumbo-jumbo. If they give up try-
ing, as so many students have, then they're
totally ignored by the education system.
Many students have become "bottom-line"
thinkers— the value of the intellectual effort
is measured by its cost-effectiveness
("what'll this effort get me?").
The whole milieu for mind expansion
and personal growth has become warped
beyond belief. Used to be, a professor
would hang out in office hours and stu-
dents would drift in to discuss intellectual
issues, learning problems or personal dilem-
mas. A good teacher could really make a
difference in somebody's life. Students
often looked to a teacher for encourage-
ment and advice and attention, stuff the
student probably wasn't getting a lot of at
home. But today, neither full-time nor
part-time teachers have the psychic energy
required to reach out and inspire. And
students often seem more interested in their
economic futures than in ideas or abstrac-
Nevertheless, many of my students strike
me as starved for positive feedback, kind
words, and strong role models. They're also
hungry for something interesting that they
can relate to. I myself am torn between
my desire to provide them sympathetic
guidance and adult friendship, which is so
lacking for young people these days, and
my unwillingness to donate too many
hours of my already busy week. I usually
volunteer three or four hours to office
time, and I'm glad I do it, but it's not
really enough. The sad truth is, with the
majority of teachers on the run, the stu-
dent who is slower or less confident will
probably get overlooked. Students with
learning disabilities or family problems
often drop out.
Something pretty tragic's going on here:
with a few minor exceptions, the personal
relationship between student and teacher
is becoming a thing of the past. Enroll-
ments are declining as a result, creating
more cutbacks, more substandard teaching,
and less intellectually capable students.
It's a bureaucratic vicious circle that's
completely out of control, and virtually
paralyzing education. And it's the kind of
organizational dysfunction you see every-
where these days.
The decline of education in America
offends me to the core for a couple of
different reasons. First of all, it represents
the arrival of a new socio-economic line-
up here in the richest country in the world.
Today, even the myth of America as a
"nation of middle-class people" is dying a
rapid death. Social classes are polarized
and the growing numbers of poor, without
access to better opportunities, are merci-
lessly shut out of the system. Life in the
eighties has become a survival-of-the-fittest
aerobic scramble to the top, in order to
join the closing ranks of the '"boomoisie."
The majority is undeniably being left be-
But the decline of education has other
ramifications that I find equally frightening.
Critical thinking and the thirst for know-
ledge are becoming rare. Mass media has
chipped away at intelligent reasoning by
offering fluff packages as "information."
People are increasingly rendered passive by
their ignorance. The old myths have made
a comeback. Americans today are accept-
ing responsibility for their own ""failure,"
instead of lashing out at the appropriate
instigators who value money over lives.
We're at a dangerous crossroads. It'd be
easy at this point to give in to fear or
despair. I sense that tendency in me on the
one hand — but I'm also too fucking angry
to give up.
— Sophia Furia
From inside The Beast, Temporarily
y quest for
has led me down
some weird paths.
IVe been a book-
keeper for a cult, a bartender in a biker bar, a
teacher in an alternative school, a counselor in a
crisis center, and a political worker for every
hopeless cause since McGovern. My penchant
for bizarre occupations has continued. I now
find myself working as a placement counselor
for a temporary service.
PROcesseo world 19
cont'd, next page
According to recent statistics from the
Dept. of Labor, employment services is
one of the five fastest-growing businesses
in the country. As a result of continuing
mergers, economic cutbacks, and rising
costs in employing full-time workers, many
corporations are turning to temporary ser-
vices to fill their employment needs. This,
in turn, is creating a growing class of
workers who receive low wages, few bene-
fits, and absolutely no job security. In
San Francisco, because of corporate mer-
gers and companies moving their back-
office operations out to the suburbs, even
temporary work is becoming scarce for
those with only clerical skills.
Clients pay a flat hourly rate to the
temporary service. The average mark-up
(the difference between what the temp is
paid and what the client is billed) of 40%
for large accounts and 60% for smaller
accounts. Occasionally services are able to
bill over 70%. Temps are never told what
the client is being billed, and clients aren't
told what the temp is being paid unless
it's specified in a contract.
Temps receive few benefits. Some of the
larger services offer vacation pay, sick
pay, health insurance, and bonuses, but
one way or another, they come out of the
temp's paycheck, not the profit margin.
Temps are covered for worker's compen-
sation, state disability, and unemploy-
ment. Technically, the temp is eligible for
unemployment benefits when a temporary
job ends. But it is to the service's advan-
tage to contest benefit awards, which
then lowers its contributions to the un-
employment fund. Temps can be denied
unemployment benefits by turning down
a subsequent assignment, failing to contact
the service at specified intervals, or simply
not answering phone calls.
Temps' job experience, qualifications,
and motivation are perennial topics for
management ridicule. Managers, however
are collectively to blame for most of it.
Job orders originate with the client's de-
partment supervisor, who is usually un-
familiar with the jobs he or she super-
vises. The supervisor conveys a sketchy
job description to a coordinator in per-
sonnel, who then gives the information
to the placement counselor at the temp
service. By this time the description has
been corrupted in the bureaucratic equiva-
lent of the childhood game "Pass It On. "
Recently I was asked to release a temp
whom the client felt couldn't read. The
temp, however, had a degree in literature.
It turned out that she couldn't read Taga-
log, which was the only language the
client was able to write in.
Placement counselors have about twenty
minutes to fill an order. Frantic phone
calls go out. The job is given to the first
person who answers the phone and can be
talked into working. This frequently means
threatening or guilt tripping the temp by
saying things like "It may be a long time
before we get another job that we would
be able to send you on, " or "I knew you
really need the work so I held this job for
you. If you decide not to take it, I won't
be able to fill it and we will probably
lose the client."
The counselor finally locates a temp
and then the sales pitch begins. Coun-
selors speak in a code that is matched only
by "For Rent" ads in the Sunday paper.
"Plush office" means a drafty warehouse
"convenient financial district location "
means somewhere near 3rd and Evans,
"great pay rate " means 10<t an hour over
minimum wage, "wonderful boss " means a
man who has all the wit and charm of a
sex -starved cobra, "wear your jeans to
work" means change into a suit before
you get there and "a lot of learning po-
tential" means learn how many envelopes
you can stuff in an hour.
After a few days on the assignment,
many temps decide they don't like the job
and request a new assignment. The coun-
selor sympathetically assures them that
they will be remembered if anything comes
up, "but things are slow right now." Rarely
will a counselor re-assign the temp. Clients
usually become irate if they have to train
another temp, and the counselor sees it as
just another hassle. A few days later the
temp quits in exasperation and the whole
cycle begins all over again.
Most of my clients treat temps as if they
were interchangeable parts rather than
people with real feelings. My most obno-
xious client was a middle-aged jerk who
kept requesting a "well-built, friendly,
blonde girl." First, I told him that I
couldn't take the order, as it was illegal.
Then I explained that we weren't that
type of service and gave him the number
of a massage parlor. Next time he called,
I accused him of being a sexist sack of
shit. Finally, I sent him a "well-built,
friendly, blonde" transvestite. I never
heard from him again.
We all have our prejudices. I'll place
just about anyone with the exception of
the potentially violent, the terminally
stupid, and est graduates. Occasionally
people come in to register for jobs that
temp services don't handle. I've had people
ask for work as a professional athlete, a
bank president, an inventor, a guru, a dog-
walker, and an astrologer. Several years
ago, I had an ex-marine register as a Xerox
operator. During the interview he showed
me his training certificate for the 9400.
He also showed me his certificates for
hand-to-hand combat, bayonet practice,
and grenade throwing. I had visions of
him clearing a paper jam with a pugil
stick, but we never heard from him again.
The worst part of my job is having to
"release" someone; again the trade jargon
suggests a mechanical part, such as a
clutch or a brake. Usually temps are re-
leased because there is no more work.
They are rarely told why, especially if
the cause justifies legal reprisals. Just be-
fore the holidays, one of my temps was
released after six months by the client.
He had received great reviews from his
supervisor and had even been training
other temps. When I asked why he was
being let go, the person speaking for the
supervisor became extremely vague and said
that she had been advised not to answer
that question. It turned out that she was
filling in for the temp"s regular super-
visor, who was on vacation; apparently
she wanted him out of the office because
he was openly gay. This was her or\ly
chance and she had documented enough
petty infractions to conceal her real motive.
Job security also eludes placement coun-
selors. I've been fired twice so far in this
business. The first time, I had been work-
ing for a large service for over a year
when our branch manager was fired. He
was a warm, caring man who tried al-
ways to put people before profits and en-
couraged us to do the same. His replace-
ment was a woman with a cheerleader
personality and reptilian ethics. We loathed
each other on sight. A few weeks after
she started, she told me to release three of
my temps who were on a long-term pro-
ject so that those jobs could be given to
her friends' kids. I told her to go fuck
herself. She fired me for having a bad
attitude, not being corporate-minded, and
having an authority problem. Last year I
heard that the company found a pretense
to fire her, because a woman presumably
couldn't handle the job. No one is exempt
from lies and manipulation in this business.
The second time I was fired, I had been
working as the manager of a new tempo-
rary service and was expected to sell the
service in addition to placing temps. I had
told the owner repeatedly during my inter-
view that I was incapable of effectively
selling anything to anyone. Then I was
fired for not being able to sell. Im on the
verge of being fired again because of my
attitude. So now I am trying to find a job
with a zoo, cleaning elephant cages. At
least then 111 know what I'm expected to
by ]oni Hockert
PROCESSED WORLD 19
Sand and Steel
he brick edifice anchored
the block to Santa Cruz's
business district by one cor-
ner. John Parks's "office" was a
cubicle on the second floor and one
of the most desirable in his section.
It boasted two windows, and his
desk was situated to take advan-
tage of them. Most of the week
they provided him with natural light
by which he made his entries, one
number to a square. The panes,
with their clear centers and their
comers radiused by dust, reminded
him of zeroes on a worksheet.
But on Thursdays the train came.
He always heard it before he saw it:
rhythmic clack<lacks, like his adding
machine. Two dirty, black engines pulled
the load — mostly low-sided cars piled high
with coarse sand, and stout tank cars—
with gruff rumbling into and then out of
his sight around a gentle curve. The train
redeemed Thursdays. He spent Thursdays
humming 'The Wabash Cannonball" and
filling the grids of his work sheets and
journals with anonymous numbers.
It was the last Thursday in May that
Parks saw them for the first time, two
young men in jeans and tee shirts sprawled
on the sunny side of the sand pile in one
of the cars. He bolted from his chair, up-
setting cold morning coffee, and leaned
over the desk toward the glass. Where are
you going? Do you care? he wanted to
shout. / wouldn't care. Not me. You don't
know how lucky you are boys, to be out of
work and on your way! I wouldn't care,
just five hundred miles a day— that's all.
The transparent reflection of his face
stared back at him from the glass, gain-
ing substance when superimposed on the
dark passing cars, flickering to a watery
ghost in the bursts of sunlight between
them. In his mind's eye, he breathed crisp
spring air, relaxing to the pulse of a thou-
sand tons of rolling steel beneath him.
The deserts bloomed this time of the year,
pastel sands seemed to flow under gaudy
waves of lavender and yellow blossoms.
Magenta cactus flowers flashed by, like
brakeman's lanterns; the air grew chill and
the engines labored to attack a grade.
Parks dug his elbows in, wiggled his butt
into the warm daydream sand and broke
into the chorus of "Bound for Glory"
when Mr. Menzel walked in and derailed
"JU-DAS PRIESTl PARKS! Mind your
business, man." With thumb and forefinger
he turned the sodden cover of the ledger.
"Kramer International," he said, "Judas
priest. " He fingered his checkered tie.
"Anyone can han an — can have an anci-
den — accident, Mr. Menzel," John blub-
bered, attempting to blot up the mess with
sheets from a scratch pad.
"Bound, " said Menzel, lifting the ledger
free and holding it like a trough, draining
the liquid that hadn't soaked into the
swelling pages back into the cup, "for
Glory." He glared out the windows and
felt the last THUMP-thump, THUMP-
thump of the departed iron horse. His fat
little face warmed to a smile; his mous-
tache twitched. "I understand. Parks. Dis-
tractions. Can't hear yourself think when
that damn thing goes by. Don't you worry
about it. Parks," he said, "well move you
to Clinton's office. He's half-deaf, anyway,
m call maintenance straight away and youll
be moved in tomorrow. You should have
said something. Parks."
Banished, moaned John's inner voice. He
pictured the majority of cubicles in the
room: uniform boxes facing avocado, inner
walls, the outlines of the cinder blocks
shamefully undisguised, save for maybe
a calendar with an image of the outside
world on the top half and the days of the
month dividing up the grid on the bottom.
The following morning he stumbled into
his office in his usual one-cup stupor and
found Clinton seated at his desk. "Hey,
Bill, waiting for me? " he asked. "What's
But Clinton stared out the window and
didn't hear. Oh yeah, John remembered,
and shuffled off to Clinton's old "office"
in the north comer of the room.
Two walls flanked his desk, their tiers
of blocks stacked to support the acoustic
tile ceiling. The light, from the fluore-
scent fixtures overhead, pulsed at an al-
most imperceptible rate. He blinked at the
two blocks directly across his desk at eye
level, tried to see through them; Monday,
he brought a poster of the Orient Express
and taped it there. Tuesday, the tape peeled
off, a train wreck on his blotter.
With four stick pins he got her back on
track on the cubicle divider that protected
him from Mavis Carson, on the left; but
the train never disappeared. It seemed a
cruel thing to do, to trap a train like
that. Wednesday, Menzel strode coolly into
his cubicle and squinted at the ceiling.
"Is the light OK for you. Parks?" he
asked, sliding a ledger onto the comer of
the desk. "We're having a little trouble
with your figures. Oh, no — no, not your
procedure, that's fine. It's the figures them-
selves. Your ones' — look here," and he
held down a column on the buff page with
a stubby finger. "They look more like
apostrophes. Now, that wouldn't be such
a problem except sometimes they look like
shepherd's crooks, which is what your
"sevens' are beginning to look like closed
up nines' I" he shouted. "I can only be glad
that there're no numbers which come
close to resembling lower case q's except
your 'FOURS.' I'm afraid you'll have to
take this home and clear it up for us.
He grimaced, fingered his tie and stalked
out, nearly trampling Mavis as she mshed
to join the quitting time stampede. He
snarled an apology. Mavis curled a horsey
upper lip toward John in sneering accu-
sation, clicking off in her tight skirt like
she had a tennis ball between her thighs.
John woke up early Thursday morning
and decided to walk. The fat white lines
of a crosswalk wavered where countless
cars had braked and accelerated on blister-
ing summer days, distorting them like can-
dle wax. He stepped off the curb and
crossed outside the lines. Railroad tracks
paralleled his route until, in deference to
the weight they must carry, they made the
bend around Frenchy's marsh. His street,
a bearer of less substantial cargo, carried
on across the bog on the narrow back of
a blackberry-choked levee. The red lights
on the long, black-and-white striped arms
of the R.R. crossing guards flashed, and
bells clanged as they descended, blocking
the road across the marsh.
He felt the rumble of the approaching
train through his hard leather shoes and
picked out the car he'd take, well before
it got to him. He started to run. His
side ached and his breath burned and the
CLACK-CLACK hurt his ears. His legs
pumped CLACK-CLACK. His arms
pumped CLACK-CLACK. His breath
whooshed CLACK-CLACK. Whoosh
CLACK-CLACK, whoosh CLACK-CMCK
His right arm shot out, his hand closed
on the iron rung. But it was too fasti He
squeaked; it lifted him off his feet, dragging
him, his black leather shoes thumping the
PROCESSED WORLD 19
ties, flashing steel wheels gleaming at his
shins like pizza cutters. He panted shallow
puffs of terror; his left shoe sailed down
the roadbed into a blackberry thicket; he
pulled his knees up but the motion sucked
him toward the wheels and he had to let
them down again. The right shoe bounced
onto the track; the wheels sliced it in half.
The heel hit a tie and flew into the air,
ttimbling and bounding down the embank-
ment. He closed his eyes and screamed; it
felt as though his feet were being beaten
with sledge hammers. "Let gol LET GOl"
his brain screamed. But he heard those
"Up ya come, buddy." Strong hands
gripped his wrists, dragged him into the
car. He lay on his back, gasping and sob-
bing with his eyes closed tight. His feet
throbbed with the rhythm of the rails and
he heard ippssssshhhh, like the brakes of
engines in an Alfred Hitchcock movie.
"Here, drink this." John felt himself being
lifted into a sitting position; he opened
his eyes. The morning Pacific flashed bright
and clean and flickered in stop frames
through telephone poles. A chunky fellow
in a polka-dot welder's cap and strap shirt
sat beside him, passing him an open can
of Old Milwaukee. The cold smoothness
of the can soothed his aching hand.
The bubbles burned his throat. "I thought
it was all over," he said when half the
can was empty. His eyes adjusted to the
light and he stopped squinting. He was
seated on a sand pile and before and be-
hind him he saw other sand piles, a chain
of dunes. "Hey! I've seen you before! You
and another guy were riding this train.
That's luck, to pick a car with someone
'Tom," said the fellow, and with a grin,
held out his hand. "We were three cars
back— took awhile to get here through all
that sand. Here comes Henry now." He
jerked his wobbling double chins toward
the rear of the car. A short man was just
plodding to the crest of the third dune
behind them, his long, yellow hair whip-
ping around his face; his arm went up in
greeting as he plunge-stepped down the
dune and out of sight. Shortly, he reap-
peared on the dune two cars behind. Be-
fore the beer bubbles stopped tickling,
Henry was beside them, shrugging off the
small back pack he carried and digging a
hole in their mountain.
'Those are pretty fancy train duds,"
Henry observed, glancing at John as he
buried more cans in the sand. "You taking
the train to work?"
John poked his finger beneath the knot
of his tie and wiggled it loose. He pulled
the tail through and held it like a home-
ward-bound pennant, and it snapped in
"Nope, I'm taking it away from work.
I'm going to be a hobo — like you guys."
The tie sailed into the air and landed in
the car behind them, snaking over the
sand in the wind. The bums grirmed.
"Right on," said Tom.
"Yeah," said Henry. "Where do you
He told them about the office and never-
ending squares. Worksheets, cinderblocks,
calendars, acoustic tiles, and Menzel's
checkered tie. "And then they took my
"Well, welcome aboard," Tom said.
"It's not every day you meet a free man."
He dug in the sand for another can.
"Can't say as I ever met one," Heruy
said. "Here's to a free man." Haze blaiJceted
the horizon; trawlers floated on it. Out-
side the city the tracks hugged the coast,
leaping over arroyos on arched trellises.
Tom wailed the blues on a mouth harp,
with two sour notes, and Henry tapped
percussion with two empty cans. "ALL-
right, ALL-right," he said, when John got
carried away and blasted into 'The Train
That Carried My Girl From Town," and
they CLACK-CLACKED into the afternoon.
'W^oo.' John, it's been great having you
aboard. We sure needed vocals, didn't we
'That's a fact," said Henry. The air
filled with a vicious screeching and rattling;
the train slowed to a crawl. Pillars of
steam spiraled from three gigantic stacks a
mile ahead. John blinked at the sheds,
conveyors and silos, everything the color
of the sand. The clacks settled down to
high-heel clicks as the train inched towards
the buildings. A red Cadillac pulled abreast
of their car. Its horn tooted.
"Right on time, " observed Henry.
'That's Mary, my wife. She gives us a
lift every fourth Thursday," Tom said.
"What's that place?"
"Davenport Cement Works. They make
that pre-mixed concrete and cinder blocks.
Thousands and thousands of em. That's
what they use all the sand for. Pick it up
south of Salinas and run it in every Thurs-
day. Heck, this line's only sixty miles lor\g.
But it's a swell ride, huh John?"
"It sure is, " said Henry.
by G. Y. Jennings
PROCESSED WORLD 19
All in a Day's Work
JL he air was hot, smelled of
'There's nothing wrong with
plastic," the old man said, con-
vinced. "It's all a damn connmunist plot, this
cancer thing." He worked with a hot glue
gun, cementing plastic wedges in the cor-
ners of black and brown plastic shutters.
He was past 60 and had worked with
the plastic company for over 10 years.
Furniture, that's what the young guys said
about him. Furniture taking up space.
Pam, that's what they called it.
It was a huge machine which ate co-
lored plastic pellets and shit out semi-
transparent sheets. The sheets were fitted
in metal runners and sold as shower stall
doors. My job was to guide the sheets out
of Pam the Plastic Extruder, snap off hot
excess strips which burned the tips of the
fingers, throw the strips in a recycle bin,
and place the sheets on a dolly.
Over and over, eight hours a day.
The stench of plastic impregnated every-
thing—my hair, my skin, my clothes, the
peanut butter and jelly sandwich I ate daily
Cancer, I thought.
Lab animals with ugly grey tumors pro-
tuberating from beneath fur. At night, af-
ter washing the odious smell of plastic
off my body with hot water and soap,
I thought about cancer. Who knows?
The scientists know, but they aren't say-
ing. Some of them are saying, but nobody
is listening. Cancer's signature is intan-
gible—it appears, after 20 years of inhaling
noxious plastic vapors, toxic fumes, smoke,
and it gives very little indication of where
it came from.
The victim sleeps, uncertain.
Red marker on cardboard:
PLEASE GIVE ME A JOB.
The old woman and I wait for the War-
ren thru bus. It's 30 minutes late, as usual.
"He ain't gonna get a job," the old
"Why? He's willing," I say.
The man grips his placard and walks
up and down the sidewalk. He wants a
job. It's not a huge request. A little dig-
nity, self-respect. But nobody's hiring. No-
body wants a man who probably worked
for 20 years on an automotive line or in
some dingy tool-&-die.
"The Depression was bad," the old wo-
man says. "But I ain't never seen nothing
like this. Old and young folks are getting
thrown out on the street with nowhere to
go. Crazy folks, too. There's always a
line at the soup kitchen. I don't care what
that president says. He should come to
Detroit and see what is going on."
MY NAME IS FRANK MILEWSKI.
PLEASE GIVE ME A JOB.
Maybe Frank Milewski assembled brakes
at River Rouge. Maybe he wasn't sick or
late one day in 20 years. It doesn't mat-
ter. There's no place for him. He doesn't
figure in the new scheme. Maybe, if he's
lucky, he'll get a job working as a jani-
tor at Sears or K-Mart making $4.50 an
It's difficult to live decently when you
make $4.50 an hour. This is America,
not Honduras. FrarJc Milewski lives in a
country where the standard of affluence
is determined by the number of things an
individual owns. One cannot buy many
things earning $4.50 an hour. One cannot
get sick and buy medical care earning
$4.50 an hour, no benefits.
Frank Milewski was probably
building a nest egg with his ^^^
factory earnings when they
pink-slipped him. They assigned
him to the industrial scrap heap.
People like Frank Milewski be-
lieve in the American Dream.
Now many of them pound the
cold pavement, begging for a
job: dishwasher, waitress, tire
mechanic, maid, janitor at
"Peoples' hearts are turning
to ice, " the old woman says.
"Some do but there's less and
less. Nobody trusts Jesus any-
more. There's no faith in God.
I worry about the children,
the poor little children. What's
the future hold for them? I
know one thing— I don't wanna
be around in 10 years to find
You are strong today, weak tomorrow.
Will I one day become a victim, a sta-
tistic in the enlarging ledger of Social
Darwinism? What do you think? Do you
think our futures will be any less brutal,
any more humane?
The bus moves in on us.
People, ferrying between mundane jobs
or school, convene under the bus boarding
sign. The first bitirig winds of winter howl
piteously through the wide conduit of street.
People struggle with dignity 2md respect
in 30 different ways.
PLEASE GIVE ME A JOB. A CHANCE.
Frank Milewski walks up the street, past
the warm windows of the old market and
the new bank. People improvise, learn to
dance as the economic heat is turned up.
Frank Milewski walks with his desperate
placard as the traffic on Warren Avenue
moves back and forth with unremitting
New Darwinism, exploding from behind
a densely massed curtain of polluted
AV"" snow clouds, splinters
RKOCESSeO WORLD 19
Early afternoon, I stop in for coffee.
Two white plain clothes cops sit at a table. They have walkie talkies bulging
from under nylon windbreakers. I know they also have concealed guns. They
sit poker-faced, sipping coffee and smoking cigarettes. They are taking a #
short break from the reality of the streets.
"Milfred, my man," a husky black man says. The cops acknow-
ledge him with disinterested nods.
"You peddling stuff, Jackson?" one of the cops inquires. ^
"Me? Aw, man!" Jackson says, striking a theatrical pose intended to,^!*"
argue his innocence. "I stop that shit long time ago. You won't J-"
catch me out there selling any shit. That's kid play. Man, the ^
school kids are selling that crap now." *;■
The cops don't like Jackson. i^
They can't do much about the kids. ^'
I'm reading a newspaper at the counter. Korean diplomats killed by a ;/
bomb. There is speculation: the communists did it. The Korean military
is on red alert. A young waitress slants lazily against the counter. She
reads the horoscopes. I can hear the cops laugh at something Jack-
son has to say. Dope pumpo through underground sewers of de-
spair. High school kids dream of fancy cars, jewelry, nice clothes,
nickel-plated pistols. There isn't much any of us can do about it.
"Who blew away that dude at the projects?" Jackson asks.
"Can't tell you. I don't know," a cop admits.
"Who wants competition?"
A joke. Jackson smiles. The cops smirk.
Who runs the dope? How much dope? Who sells it?
Enough sold to keep the ghettos from bursting into flames
again? I think the cops are part of it. Complicity is ex-
ceptionally profitable, part and parcel of a hard-edged
street capitalism. Jackson is part of it. John Q.
Public, however, doesn't want to see kids involved
in rurming vials of crack. Keep the kids out. It's
too much when kids have running gun battles
in the street.
I drir\k my coffee.
Kids selling dope. What will they sell to-
morrow? How many 14-year-olds will be shot?
The cops aren't able to stop it.
Be afraid tomorrow.
f. yj: .
"I think that there is nothing, not t
more opposed to poetry, to philo
to life itself, than this incessant h
— Henry Da
If he's off the floor this much," the for
his grunting underling, "we can't us<
It was a steel fabrication shop in Stone Mount
was in the stall reading a newspaper. The John s
urine and sweat. They didn't bother to hire an
My job was die assistant to a grizzly old man who had
was two o'clock in the afternoon and I'd cut my hand fc
wasn't a first aid station, but the foreman kept bandaids i
sight of blood, frowned upon an injured employee. So
around my bleeding wound and retreated to the sanctuai
reading a newspaper when the foreman came in with m.\
bowel problem didn't cure itself by the next day, he told
on the street looking for another job.
Since I had a note due on the car, my bowel problem
I remember staring at the old man's digitless hand as w
sheets of steel in the die. No fingers on one hand, few teel
noon about a retirement of whiskey and fishing. I gues
while drunk at the die.
After six weeks, I walked out.
What are you gonna do?" he asked. I glance
chewed on the question. "What am I gonna
"With the writing."
"Write it. Does it matter? I'm not submittii\g now," I
mouth. I knew my friend disliked the helpelessly lost ii
the snobbish academics.
"Write for money," my friend sug
"Money? Purity? I can't write anything except m
It was true. I tried a short story, but it was c
^ v» and failed miserably. Poetry was out of the q
:.i V : . write poetry .
' • "Write for the trade magazines, "my frie
, .<-- "Yeah," I said. "Sure. The
\; '■•'■•; ' Suddenly I had the urge t(
;• Vv. y-^ ^ alone at the keyboard comp
fragmented story. The subje(
nal, the never-ending confe
wanted the motion of the woi
But such things are not re
rational. I have to concern nr
survival while scrambling t(
my feet while riding the seen:
less treadmill of western civ
If the writing does not sell, il
say anything worth selling, ii
vival. To survive I must lisl
constant whine of comme
prattle of profit.
It makes my head hu
"Write for the trades
My head aches.
PROCESSED WORLD 19
hy, ay, ^
n said to
^cab, they called her. After 90 days, you join automatically— no choice, you are signed on and dues are taken from your pay-
Georgia, and I
;d of week-old
ly to clean it.
all the fingers of one hand. It
; third time that day. There
office desk. He purled at the
ipped a C-fold paper towel
grimy joh. I was in there
ion supervisor. If my
nderling, I'd be out
ed up that very
e talked all after-
ost the fingers
from my magazine and
words twisting in my
ndents and, of course.
mal, " I told him.
3n. I couldn't
check before you see it.
She was recently hired, hadn't put in 90 days. She worked as an office helper, which is the same thing as a
secretary. The union went out on strike. Everybody was out except the managers and supervisors. When she came
to work, a union woman called her a scab.
They might fire me, she explained. I'm not in the union yet.
Scab, the uruon woman said. The union woman was dressed for a career. She looked identical to her
management counterpart. Except, of course, for her union badge. Cross thel ine, she threatened,
and you're a scab. Simple as that, no substitutions.
She couldn't afford to lose her job. Divorced, with a young daughter. A sullen and occasionally
violent ex who did everything he could to make her life difficult.
She needed the job, regardless of how little it paid. Her ex was months behind in the
\._ child support. She lived in the high rent district where she put her daughter in a good school.
Scab or not, she crossed the line.
'*r^ The union put her on the list: scab. After the strike was settled, the union woman made
i,. it tough for her. Not in so many words she told her that the union wouldn't back her up if
3 there were to be trouble in the office. The union, like management, needed logs for the fire,
• enemies to fortify a fragile equilibrium.
' > Last year they went out on strike again.
• \ She was one of a handful who wanted to push management against the wire on the con-
• • tract. But sell-outs— professional union sell-outs with large incomes — steered the member-
• ; • ship into a watered-down contract which left them essentially where they had started. She
■-;'out for six weeks and came up with nothing. She had to borrow money in order to stay on
,;hi^ feet and pay the bills. Her ex wasn't about to help out. The union had sold the member-
.;..» ship down the river. The union was run by people who thought like managers and^the
presidents of large multinational corporations.
A few.'days after the strike, she saw the
union woman at McDonalds. She was sitting
in McDort^lds with a coffee when the union
woman Vame in. The union woman could
have .passcJd as a manager or president's ad-
jutant; Her new union car was double-parked
at the curb. The union woman bought ham-
burgers, at McDonalds — a non-unionized,
minimum' • wage employer which had vehe-
mently rfeisted all organizing efforts. She ap-
parentty- paw nothing wrong with it. Or,
more'lifeely, was blind.
But she. knew a scab_when she saw one.
PKOCeSSED WORLD 19
It's an insurance company.
I do and I don't know what I'm getting
myself into. "Our clerks advance rapidly,"
the beaming stooge tells me the day I hire
on. I don't care about advancement. I know
I'll never get there. All I want is to be left
alone, to work an easy job, make enough
money to put a roof over my head and
write in the evenings— an impossible dream,
Do it like a whore, for the money.
They provide a desk. They allow space
for family photographs on the vacuous
white formica wall of an office partition.
The Supe, a bom-again Christian with a
700 Club pin affixed to his lapel, intro-
duces me to the job. Filing, sorting, proof-
reading. More filing, sorting. Endlessly,
until you're ready for a pension, a retire-
ment of unkind poverty.
I complete one stack, go after another.
Years of absurd work, going nowhere.
Never advance. > . :, . ■
Always mediocre, -r ■ • . ' ' .
I stare at the sign, glowering.
ARE YOU TIRED OF NOT MAKING
It's fixed to a runner slotted above my'
- head on the green metal wall of the Grand
Always something to sell, I think.
A dejected ad photograph man with his
face buried in his hands. This man, it is
hoped I'll believe, is extremely tired of not
. making enough money. He's tired of being
passed over, of not being included in the
Megabuck Dream. Do the people riding
Grand River thru identify with the un-
happy man in the photograph? Will they
buy that which the ad agency was hired to
. sell — in this instance, a degree from an
electronics technical school — and move
the money around?
The man in the photograph is a loser.
Because he is not on the Fortime 500 list.
'1 What a pile of shit, I think.
Economic roles. It's easy, see? Over JjA
there, that's Machine Shop. Art Class '' '
there. And over there is Economics Class.
Which will it be? Banker? Laborer? Preg-
nant housewife? Soldier? Secretary? It's ;' $.;
easy. It's also very hard, depending on -j*?^
your decision. It depends on the role you v;''}
take or the one you end up with. Depends (> -j
on whose reality you're buyirvg. v.^'
I'm not buying anything. ' . •<' ;
I'm not the buy on TV, or the one in the ';• .-'
Not an actor. Not the president of the • '
United States. I'm not a computer clerk
just now getting his start, learning dis-
appointment. I'm trying to nm, but my
feet are inexplicably stuck in the ooze of
"Southfield Cross," the driver drones.
TIRED OF NOT MAKING ENOUGH
"I'm tired of incessant bullshit," I mutter, .
too loud. A tough-looking kid, his black
leather jacket resplendent with metal studs
which swim under insipid neon, stares at
me. I'm a crazy gringo.
When the door sibilates open, I depart.
Dirty sun in my eyes.
' ■ by Kurt Nimmo '
PKOcesseo world i9
Kaiser Don't Care!
Rank & File Activists Talk About the Kaiser Strike
"The strike slogan was 'Kaiser Don't Care' and they
don't care about the patients. We care about the
patients and that's how they get the work out of us
and that builds resentment in us... They [Kaiser]
know we'll get in there and work our butt off. "
— Blanche Bebb, X-ray technician. Committee for a
Democratic Union (CDU), negotiating committee
member, SEIU Local 250.
"Kaiser is the perfect example of waste because
every time a problem comes up, their solution is to
hire a new supervisor — I've worked at Merrill Lynch
and American Express. They are huge, totally worth-
less corporations and Kaiser is more top-heavy with
supervisors than they were."— Dermy Smith, Nurse's
Aide, Committee for a Democratic Union (CDU),
SEIU Local 250 member.
rrom October 27 to December 13, 1986,
9,000 Kaiser Hospital workers through-
out northern California were on strike.
The strike's key issue was Kaiser's goal of
imposing a two-tier wage system (i.e.
where new hires are paid less than cur-
rent workers), a goal they ultimately
achieved in spite of workers voting it
down: at first by a 4-1 margin and
then by 55-45% after nearly six weeks on strike.
The rank and file members of Local 250 bitterly re-
sisted two-tier, rejecting Kaiser's contention that the
company needed it to remain competitive. "If they
wanted to do something about their so-called com-
petition, they wouldn't have patients waiting three
months to see a doctor," said Bebb.
In late October, after two months of negotiations,
SEIU Local 250 struck against a contract proposal
that would have imposed a 30% lower wage on new
hires in about half of Kaiser hospitals and clinics
(those in the suburbs north of the Bay Area and in
the Central Valley around Sacramento and Stock
ton). Striking workers included
licensed vocational nurses.
respiratory therapists, pharmacists, x-ray techs, cleri-
cals, and housekeepers. Another 700 optical workers
and medical technologists from two smaller unions
were also on strike.
On December 4 these two smaller unions accepted
a 20% wage cut for new hires. However, most of
these workers stayed off the job until the settlement
with the larger Local 250 ten days later, which pro-
vided 15% less for new hires. Up to 200 workers
from five other unions, as well as several hundred
registered nurses, also honored picket lines. Sym-
pathy walkouts by as many as 65% of Kaiser RNs
during the first weeks led Kaiser to get a legal in-
junction to prevent the California Nurses Association
from engaging in such actions. In response, CAN
members formed an ad hoc group separate from the
union, RNs for Quality Care, to organize their sup-
port for the strike.
In spite of this support for the strike from other
workers, some Kaiser workers blamed
the union for not organizing
''When it comes to funda-
mental things like union democracy or
strong political action that would change the way
health care is delivered in this country, the unions
are reactionary/' —Denny Smith
PROCESSED WORLD 19
In a post-strike S.F. Chronicle piece
on Dec. 19, a Committee for a Democra-
tic Union activist, John Mehring (a psychi-
atric technician at another hospital) said:
"If the SEIU was involved early on in the
negotiations, why was the organization of
the strike so haphazard and inconsistent?
Why weren't strike benefits extended? If
the handwriting was on the wall that two-
tier was becoming more prevalent in Local
250 contracts, why wasn't more effort done
early so a united front could have been
Many Local 250 members believe the
International sabotaged the strike. After
collecting some $25 million in union dues
over the last six years the International
paid back $2.2 million in strike benefits.
At the end of six weeks on strike, and two
contract rejections by rank and file vote,
SEIU armounced (about two weeks before
Xmas) that strike benefits would be cut
from $60 to $45 for that week, and cease
altogether the following week. With no
prior warning about diminishing strike
funds, workers had no chance to develop
outside strike fundii\g from the community
and other workers and unions. [Just as we
go to press, SEIU has blamed the exhaus-
tion of strike benefits on a "breakdown"
in management of members' dues by Local
250 officials— SF Chron. 3-23-87.1
In a wide-ranging interview with Blanche
Bebb and Denny Smith, activists in the
rank-and-file Committee for a Democratic
Union (CDU), it became clear that the
militance of Kaiser workers was very much
in spite of the SEIU International. "99% of
picket line activities were organized by the
rank and file" said Bebb. "The union was
only interested in the corporate campaign
(i.e. pressuring directors and other com-
panies to withdraw from their normal trans-
actions with the struck firm) which is the
'New Strategy for Unions'."
The International came in to run the lo-
cal some weeks before the strike actually
began and since the strike's unsuccessful
conclusion it has put the Local, which is
some $800,000 in debt, into trusteeship.
Since late 1986, it has suspended all meet-
ings of the Local executive board and trus-
Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Pro-
gram, by far the largest independent Health
Maintenance Organization (HMO) (con-
trolling over 58% of the market compared
to its nearest competitor at 9%), is grow-
ing nationally emd the Kaiser contract is a
pace-setter for many of SEIU's other medi-
cal contracts. After a lousy settlement
three years ago in which part-timers lost
extra pay and comp time for holiday work,
disgruntled members elected seven rank
and file activists on the CDU slate to the
executive board of Local 250. The Inter-
national came in at this time because its of-
ficials feared that a bad contract would
allow CDU to take over the Local in the
elections scheduled for this spring. Now
Do they care?
that the International has presided over a
bad settlement, it is using its ability to sus-
pend democracy in the union.
The International officials poorly or-
ganized the strike. According to Bebb and
Smith, officials ineffectually trained new
shop stewards and a 49-member bargaining
committee. 'The traiiung was more like est
training— they didn't really talk about nego-
tiations and what we were up against,"
said Bebb. The people designated by the
union to head the negotiations had never
negotiated with Kaiser before: an attorney
and a representative from the Washington
D.C. office of the International.
In spite of its mistrust of uiuon officials,
CDU agitated among the workers to sup-
port the union and the strike. CDU urged
a fight against the two-tier wage structure,
while the International tried to make "qual-
ity patient care" the main issue. Smarting
from past media portrayals of striking hos-
pital workers as callous, uncaring and
selfish, the International pushed the idea
for a joint labor-management patient care
committee to improve quality. The original
proposal was for a tripartite Local 250/
management /community committee: the
negotiators ended up with an annual one-
day seminar in which Kaiser managers
and workers discuss patient care, with no
community involvement. The International
claimed this as a victory, a foot in the
door, but Bebb says she'd rather not have
it. She argues that this was an intentional
distraction from the importance of resisting
the two-tier: 'Two-tier is about patient care,
because morale will plummet when the
two-tier is implemented. "
"I feel really proud that we twice re-
jected the two-tier [during this period],"
Smith says. Bebb: "The International had
to really get behind it and sell it. They
shoved it down our throats. We forced
them out of the closet, though. " The In-
ternational accepted a 2-tier proposal from
Kaiser and pushed it through the bargain-
ing committee with no recommendation,'
hoping that the members would accept it,
so they could blame the members for not
being strong enough. When workers re-
jected the contract on Dec. 4 by a 55-45%
margin, the International was forced to
really sell the next proposal, with "heavy-
duty speakers" at every meeting. It won
ratification on Dec. 13 in spite of being
voted down by a slim majority in San
Francisco and by a 2-1 margin in the East
At this point our interview digressed
beyond the strike. Local 250 members have
already been taking direct action to ad-
dress patient care at SF Kaiser. Two workers
ciKulated a petition to create an AIDS-
only ward after ongoing difficulties in pro-
viding adequate care for AIDS patients.
Combined with pressure from the SF City
Human Rights Commission (which in turn
was being pressured by dissatisfied. Kaiser-
insured gay city employees), the workers'
Denny Smith: 'The uruon, typically, wanted
to do it top-down. Our business agent, Sal
Roselli, wanted to handle everything him-
self. He wanted to call the hospital ad-
ministrator and work things out... Our
AIDS-Action committee had to constantly
keep him in check so that decisions were
made by the rank and file, because it was
our idea in the first place. His whole ap-
proach, like the uiuon's approach to every-
thing, is to pick up the phone and call
some topdog in the hospital, which is pro-
bably the way contracts get signed. The
AIDS Ward is working now, and because
it has pressure from the workers and com-
munity, it works pretty well."
Smith is a charter member of CDU,
which was formed in 1981 after several
years of informal rank and file caucuses
in the late 70s. CDU's core consists of 10-
20 activists, with many more supporters
throughout the local. Smith characterized
the breakdown of attitudes among CDU's
rank and file allies as follows: those who
are angry because they didn't get a raise
from the strike; those who are angry be-
cause they see the union is undemocratic
and is going downhill; those who would
join CDU but are intimidated by red-
baiting; and those who would be activists
but for kids at home and/or two-job sche-
dules. I asked Smith and Bebb to describe
their fondest fantasies if they were to get
rid of the current leadership and change
the union. The discussion kept on widerung
in scope from that point on.
Blanche Bebb: I think the strike has proven
that our members are so full of energy and
imagination and ideas that they never have
any chance to express... We want to see
the rank and file get liberated and really
PROCESSED WORLD 19
see the union as theirs and use it. To some
extent that happened during the strike —
people were going down there and taking
the initiative... The main thing is that we
wouldn't be afraid of the rank and file.
That's a big difference. We believe in and
trust the members, and we're not into
having a job in a bureaucracy. We could
have creative picket lines and cultural ac-
tivities at meetings, not just read the min-
utes from the last meeting.
Denny Smith: These guys make [meetings]
as dead as possible. They couldn't be more
Processed World: In talking about all this
stuff it's very easy to get bogged down in
all the immediate details — the contract,
working conditions. But the longer view is
that U.S. health care delivery is being dra-
matically restructured. Part of that is the
concentration of capital in mega-hospital
corporations, and another is a major push
by insurance companies, government and
these hospital corporations to maintain the
private control of health care profits.
There are plenty of ideas floating around
about how to restructure health care toward
not-for-profit, human need. Are there any
embryonic committees within CDU which
are trying to address this bigger picture?
Maybe from the point of view of deve-
loping an alternative agenda and based on
D.S.: Health care in the U.S. is such a
fucked-up system. Any fair-minded person
would have to support some kind of na-
tional cradle-to-grave health care system
that doesn't depend on profits or the greed
of some chairmen of the board. We've had
some brainstorming sessions about what
our caucus might do if we won some
powerful position in the union: home care
for the homeless; a hiring hall for un-
employed health workers; political action
to push for a national health plan; political
action to push for better care for geria-
tric and nursing home patients...
B.B.: Unions are tied into the Health Main-
tenance Organization (HMO) idea. A lot
of unions control the trust funds that pay
the money and they have a vested interest
in the current set-up. It won't be easy to
get unions out of HMOs, just like it won't
PROCESSED WORLD 19
be easy to get unions to take a progres-
sive stand on anything! This is the AFL-
CIO: top, top, top. SEIU International is
part of that. That's what these Interna-
tionals and the AFL-CIO are about: keep-
ing us in line as workers.
But on the other hand, workers need
unions — we have to be in unions. I'm
scared about three years down the line, de-
pending on where the members are at, if
they let it be known that they're not ready
to strike, we may lose our seniority, in
which case, well hell, we won't have a
D.S.: ...When it comes to fundamental
things like union democracy or strong poli-
tical action that would change the way
health care is delivered in this country,
the unions are reactionary. They just take
easy positions on things that won't cost
them any union dues.
PW: Internationals and most locals asso-
ciated with the AFL-CIO are so wrapped
up in capitalism and such staunch defen-
ders of The Way It Is Now because the
officials are making $50-$60,000 a year.
Why would they want to fight against that?
They get to drive around in big cars, hang
out with important people, get talked
about in the newspapers. Which raises a
difficult question for rank and file activists
like yourselves: what's to prevent the next
person in charge from being corrupted by
that status and privilege and power? If
you get elected into that same system, it
seems to be quite difficult to abolish that
power you finally won after all those years
of trying to get it.
B.B.: I don't think you can do it just within
one local... I just have to be optimistic.
God knows when it'll happen, but there is
a movement... Local 1199 in N.Y.C. is a
good example. Since a rank and file com-
mittee took over they've done a lot — they
do theater, they've put people through
medical school, even housekeepers. But
this is the exception, and anyway, any-
time you get anywhere, the International
PW: And trusteeship is not far behind...
What are unions doing essentially but bar-
tering the terms of slavery? — that's the old
ultra-left line,' which we could argue about
to the end of time.
BB: But it is the organization of the work-
ing class... You can't just run out and cre-
ate something else...
PW: Most unions, as you have pointed
out in this interview, have very little to do
with what the workers they represent are
actually doing on a day-to-day basis, and
often times, they put themselves in active
opposition to what the workers want. The
union becomes a different entity with dif-
ferent interests. When workers are trying
to find new methods they invariably find
their International and /or Local right in
the way. It's one of the first obstacles they
have to overcome. So to talk about the
Local as the organization of those workers
isn't rezdly accurate. If those workers are
organized, that's their organization, whe-
ther it be informal or something like CDU.
Whereas the Local is a remnant of an
earlier effort that became separate from
what gave it its original impetus, and now
comes back as an obstacle.
D.S.: As CDU we're definitely pro-union.
This has come up because the union has
spread rumors that we're anti-union and
want to decertify and we have to tell people:
"No, we just want to take back our union,
because the union is ours."
B.B.: During the strike we were left on our
own on the picket lines, and then people
kept saying: 'We are the union' — I heard a
lot of that. It's the classic one they're al-
ways telling us: "What are you complain-
ing about the union for? You are the union,"
of course knowing that we're not. But du-
ring the strike, we were, we kept the com-
mittees going, we raised the money, we did
all the work, we picketed. How do we
take that and keep it going?
PW: So that's the living union as opposed
to the dead union — the legal entity that
has all the money.
B.B.: On the shop floor level, the shop
stewards can do a helluva lot. You can
organize about anything you want, call
meetings about anything, demand to see
anyone. They can say 'No,' and then you
can organize an action with 20 people —
but in order to be protected and not get
your activists fired, you need the protec-
tion of the union. You know you'd be out
the door if you did these things and you
weren't a shop steward, or if it weren't a
PW:That's a good example of how you get
some legal protection from the union, but
there are also numerous examples of people
getting the axe with the complicity of their
union, and they're gone, that's the end of
B.B./D.S.: Yeah, it's true.
PW: Unless you have that extremely strong
rank-and-file movement that will get out
there right away and strike or act on be-
half of the person who got axed with the
union's complicity or whatever the issue
may be, then the union is ephemeral, it
doesn't really exist. The union is action,
living action by the workers, and without
that what have you got?
D.S.: Sometimes I feel like if (the unions]
are rotten to the core then the whole thing
needs to be scrapped and [we need to]
start over with some new form of workers'
organization. But in the strike, the scabs
would always say: 'Look what your union
did last time, why would you be out on
the sidewalk if that's what they're going to
do to you?' And then the people who
were really willing to fight would counter
that with: This is my union and I'm goni\a
be out there because I'm the one who's
gonna be screwed.' It was the vocabulary
of the day that we had to deal with. I think
other forms may arise, perhaps not in the
B.B.: That's why I say you have to be flex-
ible, ready for any opportunity, to make
alliances with everybody you can, and just
be there at the time. It's like this strike,
we could have said 'SEIU is gonna sell you
out anyway, so why bother?' but we said,
'Oh no, jump in there, get involved.' And
I think we gained a lot, lost money but
PW: We have these arguments within the
PW collective all the time. Even if you are
critical of the existing bureaucratic unions,
nevertheless (and your case is a good
example) the union provides a context in
which people can organize and talk to each
other. Even if they find themselves having
to talk about being in opposition to that
union, they've already linked up that way.
It creates certain channels of communica-
tion that are very hard to establish from
scratch. Then the problem becomes voca-
bulary, and finding a language that breaks
throu^ the conceptual baggage. For
example, putting out the word 'union' as
an "association of individuals getting toge-
ther for their mutual interests in opposition
to the labor laws which have been written
specifically to prevent them from getting
anywhere," might change the whole com-
plexion of that word.
The interview then disintegrated into a
general conversation on working class poli-
tics around the world. A month after this
interview was conducted. Local 250 was
put into trusteeship in spite of strenuous
efforts by Bebb, Smith and CDU to avert
it. CDU will have to wait up to eighteen
months before there is a union election.
A lot of grassroots organizing will have to
be maintained and consolidated in order
for them to bring a new direction to SEIU
Local 250 in the future.
-Interview conducted by Lucius Cabins
PROCESSED WORLD 19
Chips 'n' Dips
he microchip industry's
credibility regarding work-
ers' health has dipped so
low that the Semiconduc-
tor Industry Association
(SIA) recently invoked its
own tattered image to
dodge fresh evidence of dirt
in its "clean" rooms.
The evidence, which attracted
national attention, issued from a
University of Massachusetts study
of Digital Equipment Corporation
(DEC) workers. The focus was on
workers who process microchips
at DEC'S Hudson, Massachusetts,
plant. Summaries of the study were
released to DEC and the Boston
Globe in December 1986. The study,
according to Globe reporter Bruce
Butterfield, found "double and
higher the incidences of worker-
reported rashes, headaches, and
arthritis" and, among male work-
ers, "significantly higher incidences
of nausea." The most publicized
finding, however, was of a twice-
normal miscarriage rate — 39% —
among workers in wafer-etching
areas. An alarming 29% miscar-
riage rate was found among wafer
Liable for damages from injured worker
lawsuits, the industry responded by deny-
ing, as it has for years, a causal con-
nection between clean room chemicals and
fetal damage. Inspired by self-interest, the
industry dismisses claims that arsine, phos-
phine, chlorine, and hydrofluoric and hy-
drochloric acids — all found in abundance
in most wafer fabs — contribute to the no-
toriously high "systemic poisoning" rates
among semiconductor workers (for more
on clean room hazards, see "Chemicals
Run Amok— Where's the Dirt?" in PW 17).
DEC promptly banned on-site interviews
with workers at the Hudson plant.
Amid all the dissembling over the study's
results, some firms adopted "precautionary"
policies that appeared to deal with the
problem. DEC armounced a policy of free
pregnancy testing and job transfers for all
women of child bearing age who worked
in the high-risk areas. AT&T went furthest,
mandating job transfers out of controver-
sial clean room work for pregnant women.
Despite evidence that clean room chemicals
(such as glycol ethers) cause shrunken
testicles, not to mention a variety of dis-
orders in male and female laboratory ani-
mals, none of the chipmakers would guaran-
tee transfers for exposed male workers,
who, the industry explained, weren't having
Sheila Sandow is a spokesperson for the
SIA. According to the Silicon Valley
Toxic News (Winter 1987) and San Jose
Mercury News, Ms. Sandow responded to
the DEC-sponsored study by
noting that women
in certain chipmaking areas have a "per-
sonal responsibility" for their health and
pregnancy. Accordingly, Sandow ad-
vised women to consult their doctors (not ,
their lawyers) if they become pregnant.
She also allowed that DEC and AT&T's
policies of job transfers for affected women
"could create problems, esf)edally when the
industry as a whole is in a slump."
In March, the SIA assumed an even
more contorted public posture by rejecting
calls from watchdog groups— and an SIA
task force — for a comprehensive health
study of the chipmaking industry. Why?
Because the SIA's board doubted whether
the public would accept an SIA-sponsored
study as objective. The SIA, tossing reason
aside, instead recommended that semicon-
ductor firms perform their own, isolated
studies. But in a prior episode, both the
SIA and its member firms had established
their disdain for impartial inquiry, as well
as their capacity for skullduggery.
By 1980 the occupational illness rate for
Silicon Valley semiconductor workers (1.3
illnesses per 100 workers) was over three
times that for manufacturing workers (.04/
100). Compiled from a California Depart-
ment of Industrial Relations (CDIR) sur-
vey, the high illness rate included mana-
gers and nonproduction employees and
thus understated the danger. The rate also
discounted latent disorders,
By simply changing the
way it recorded injuries and illnesses,
the semiconductor industry produced an apparent
two-thirds drop in its occupational illness rate.
PKOCCSSED WOULD 19
and birth defects, as well as the special
wear and tear exacted by this stressful
The industry's high illness rate prompted
reviews and planned studies by the Califor-
nia OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health
Administration), and, on a federal level, by
NIOSH (National Institute for Occupa-
tional Safety and Health). In response the
SIA "decided to re-evaluate" (as an SIA
lawyer put it) the way it recorded chemi-
cal "incidents." By simply changing the
way it recorded injuries and illnesses, the
industry produced an apparent two-thirds
drop in its occupational illness rate. Under
equally mysterious circumstances, the go-
vernment agencies planning the studies
were dissuaded from conducting them.
The SIA's revisionism — and the govern-
ment's reluctance to challenge it — allowed
the companies to avoid a legal obligation
to report many work-related illnesses. This
helped establish a secvilar trend of declining
occupational illness data that could later
be used as evidence against disabled work-
ers' legal claims. Now, the unpublished
DEC study, which the SIA may yet seek
to discredit, threatens to arm disabled
workers with new evidence against the
industry's ill-gotten innocence.
NIOSH, according to the Globe, has
requested a copy of the DEC study and is
"considering launching a federal health study
of the semiconductor industry." California
health officials, too, are under pressure to
conduct research into Silicon Valley elec-
tronics plants. But these are dubious enter-
prises. In February the Wall Street Journal
reported on the progress of a $450,000
on-again, off -again VDT (Video Display
Terminal) hazards study by NIOSH. Bell-
South Corp., an Atlanta-based telephone
company, enjoined NIOSH scientists from
asking employees about "their fertility his-
tory [sic] or their perception of occupa-
tional stress, a potential cause of miscar-
riages." When NIOSH insisted on the rele-
vance of these questions to the study,
BellSouth contacted the White House,
whose Office of Management and Budget
then "threatened to block fimding for the
study unless the questions were dropped."
NIOSH relented, thus impairing the VDT
study. This retreat signaled a servility to
capital's friends in high places that would
likely blemish any NIOSH examination of
the semiconductor industry workplace.
California health officials, according to the
San Jose Mercury News, are citing bare
budgets and industry intransigence as ex-
cuses not to study health problems in the
clean room. "Industry is key to the success
of the study," according to the state's chief
of epidemiological studies. Government
agencies remain an unlikely ally for labor.
The industry is biding its time.
In the aftermath of the Hudson plant
study, some three dozen organizations
ranging from the Santa Clara Center for
Occupational Safety and Health (SCCOSH)
to IBM Workers United and the Environ-
mental Defense Fund, as well as union
activists and officials, sent an open letter
to semiconductor firms and drafted a posi-
tion paper on "Health and Safety in the
Semiconductor Industry." The groups
are asking the industry to "remove toxics,
not workers" from the workplace. They
also charge that exclusionary policies such
as AT&T's are short-sighted and possibly
in violation of federal laws that forbid
employment discrimination on the basis of
sex or pregnancy.
For more information on reproductive
and other hazards in the high-tech work-
place, call the Confidential Reproductive
Hazards Hotline (408) 998-4050 or (800)
4242-USA. For copies of Silicon Valley
Toxic News, contact the Silicon Valley
Toxics Coalition, 277 West Hedding St.
§208. San Jose, CA 95110 or call (408)
PROCESSED WORLD 19
A Day Older, A Dollar Poorer!
n ?]N ^15 "Fire and Ice"
covered a strike at Watson-
ville Canning and Frozen
Food Company in Califor-
nia. The strike began Sept.
3, 1985 when the company
slashed wages from an ave-
rage of $6.66 to $4.75 an
hour, as well as many other
take-aways (dues checkoff,
vacation pay for seasonal
workers, etc.). The workers
are represented by Team-
sters Local 912, were mostly
Hispanic women, and struck
after an 800-1 vote. The
company used legal injunc-
tions and cops in its attempt
to keep operating, but was
unsuccessful. Workers re-
fused to cross the picket
lines, and the Watsonville
community supported the
Despite the international union's lack of
support, the strike continued for 18 months,
with the workers running the finances,
publicity, child-care and solidarity actions.
Scabs were paid $5.15/hr. but the com-
pany was never able to reach normal
production. Finally, in February of 1987
Wells Fargo bank began foreclosure pro-
ceedings against the now desperate com-
pany (owing over $7 million). A group of
creditors, mostly growers in the area,
formed NORCAL Frozen Foods and bought
the plant. They immediately re-opened
negotiations, offering improved wages
($5.85/hr., now the prevailing union wage
in the area). The union officials approved,
but the workers refused to ratify the of-
fer, in particular because of inadequate
medical coverage. Although the union cut
off strike benefits and announced that the
strike was over, the rank-and-file had a
different idea and went back out on the
picket lines. Five days later, the new own-
ers gave in to the workers' medical de-
mands as well as their demands for se-
niority rights and amnesty for strikers
(which was tantamount to dismissing the
scabs). This contract was ratified by 543-
21. The plant is now operating again, with
full production expected by autunm '87.
Although the new owners appear to be an
improvement it remains to be seen if they
will follow words with actions.
So, after 18 months of poverty, mil-
lions of dollars drained out of a tiny com-
munity, numerous arrests and evictions,
it's back to business as usual. The workers
accepted a dollar an hour less, and other-
wise are about where they were a year and
a half ago. The company, however, not
only didn't get its way, it went bankrupt.
The workers gained an intangible benefit —
they refused to give up, and broke their
immediate enemy. Facing union busting and
take-backs from the largest cannery in the
U.S., a combative spirit and enduring
tenacity carried the day.
— Primitivo Morales
PROCfSSf O WOBl
o o o
for Judy Wapp and David Everest
If you look closely at those who speak about
"our flag" or "our country"
you'll observe they have one thing in common:
they wear ties. In each sector of the globe
this is the same: before they get you to kill
for them, or suffer for them, or hate for them
they put on a tie, pick up the speech
somebody else was paid to write, step to
a microphone and start. Ties
are the real flags of such people.
The few women or priests among them dress
in an equally recognizable manner.
But ties let them identify their counterparts
in different geographic areas.
Later, after the war
or the crisis or the trade dispute
it will be revealed that the men and women of the ties
made lots of money through deals in the other region
while they were buying and selling
the lives of the rest of us
or the products we create at work
or the minerals or crops found locally.
Then the ties begin to flap
about the "natural historic friendship
between our two great peoples"
until the time comes to seal a border again,
(who you'll note also wear ties)
and energetically wave the flags.
But always the first allegiance
these talkers pledge to in the morning
is their ties.
On the plaza at the United Nations building in New York
instead of flagpole after flagpole displaying
the massed banners of the globe
they should run up the world's ties:
board of director ties,
central committee ties,
senior administrative staff ties.
This would give a more accurate picture
to the tours of school kids or anyone else attempting to grasp
what goes on around the planet.
Or, Neruda had a better scheme: every household,
each family should fly their own flag.
Every group or organization so inclined.
Some would be more elaborate than others,
some especially imaginative. All sorts of devices,
slogans, shapes, trim.
Under such circumstances, if a tie so much as breathes
the word "fatherland" or "motherland"
the evidence will be visible to everybody:
we are many, not one. Individuals, not a herd.
Differences, solidarities, uniquenesses.
And we might choose
other groupings than at present.
A majority of flags could even decide
to end the tieocracy,
the rule by these treacherous little
scraps of cloth.
the sexual electricity
at my workplace is so
absent that I get
my spine they
make my cock
hard I will fill
the void with my
I will couple
will look like
SHIVERING INTO THE FUTURE
If they can store
a human embryo
on ice for four days
in a lab
Where's the surprise
when they freeze
for seven weeks
in a computer? The
death of emotion
was no immaculate
Tristano was 30
years ahead of
his time, the Birth
of the Cool
was a baby that
grew up like
Topsy on steroids,
and now we've got
a new cold mode
no other society's
PROCESSED WOklD 19
You're not interested in ordinary people
but in those fucked up to an
extraordinary' degree. Tentativeness and caution
aren't synonymous, so you have a point.
Boarding the bus before dawn, we were seatmates
who talked about politics, God, work, music and women
— got off at a rest stop and wound up
stranded someplace that wasn't even on the map.
Two people nervously scanning a lonely depot.
Walking like a cat aware of a sleeping junkyard dog
measuring your sentences like pieces of adhesive tape
fluffing the cushion of every received idea
but not making it comfortable enough to rest on
I remarked that you remind me of me, when I was learning
how to be a homosexual, and failing the course.
You laughed, of course, and we left the depot
for the light from a nearby diner.
With love, from America.
© 1986 Squirrel Bates
the velocity of money
"when money moves slowly
the economy slows down"
— time magazine
large coins fall from the money plant
I throw pennies from the back window
at the cats near the fish pond
the speed of money has been known
to reach seven miles a second
that was before
electronic fund transfer techniques
now money moves so fast
a lot of it manages to escape gravity
thats why my salary goes up so slowly
if they gave me more money
instead of sending it off into space
I would contribute
to the velocity of money here on earth
I promise you
LUMPED ON THE BOWERY
The 42 year old slit eyed wino,
jailed in Manhattan for life
without parole or sex or hope
in solitary confinement,
wine soaked his brain cells on the street alone
and paint soaked canvas in his Bowery room.
Billy the Psychedelic Wino
a refugee from the old storms on St. Marks
told him his stuff was as good as Picasso's.
Last year an analyst came
from the welfare department.
She recommended he sober up
& pursue his talent more vigorously.
He had some one wino showings
& his paintings began to collect
in Park Avenue penthouses.
He moved into a Soho loft
where models competed for the stroke of his brush,
& he danced with the people at Studio 54 & ate at Elaine's
until a Gucci trodden exhibition
on the Upper East Side,
where a sly critic in a Brooks Brothers suit
spotted similarities to the sketches
received by the Pope at Easter
from armless veterans taught by therapists
to hold brushes between their teeth.
PROCeSSCD WORLD 19
settled into a slightly rough,
publicly tough couch and folded
her hands in her lap. Like a bird in
- a spring tree, she soaked.
At the semicircular command post that faced the
lobby, a well-caked receptionist, tightly wrapped
in navy blue polyester, pressed her buttons. "Yes, a
Miss Micheri here," she blithely mispronounced Mackery,
"to see Mr. Gibson," J.'s ears hung for the volley. Her eyes
focused vaguely on a spot just below the center of the coffee
table in front of her. A radio at the receptionist's post urged her
in full choir to rush out and buy a truck as quickly as possible. It
•was for her own good. "A Miss Mickernini," the receptionist con-
tinued tumirijg the page in a celebrity magazine. "She was two minutes
and thirty seconds late... All right." At this point, J. felt an over-
whelming need to pick up the only piece of reading material on the
table, a six month old copy of Real Estate Plus, and pretend to
read as she felt scrutiny in the air. She wanted a job. She
needed the money. "He'll be down in just a few minutes,
the receptionist said, careful not to disturb her facial
"Thank you," uttered J. concealing the sting of
hearing her name casually garbled and realizing at
once that falseness could be detected in her
voice. She thought better of her creeping
desire for a cigarette. That would
surely be an unwelcome sign of
nervousness or haughtiness.
Two minutes and thirty
seconds late? She open-
ed the magazine to
"The Five Hottest Sub-
Techniques — and
PROCESSeO WORLD 19
A hannonious and subdued electronic
pulse, signaling an incoming phone call
and a new age in technology, pressed
from the switchboard. The receptionist
took a deep, long drag on a cigarette.
She pressed a button. "Great American
United National Real Estate." She took a
drag. Exhaling, "Who's calling?" In the
background, J. noticed weighty blurbs
now coming over the radio. Jeff the Wea-
therman was speculating about radiation
from a Russian nuclear power plant melt-
down reaching town. Then a marching
band boomed out a tune for frozen orange
juice that either had a lot of pulp or only
a little, J. couldn't tell, but she knew that
the amount of pulp was important. She
reached into her coat pocket to make sure,
just in case, that she hadn't locked her keys
in her car. No, she had them. And what
was this? A peanut M&M. What a great
surprise. She brought it to her mouth
in a closed fist and, pretending to clear
her throat, popped it in. No way would
she chew it, she promised herself. Not only
would chewing be entirely unacceptable
before a job interview, but concentrating
on the sweetness of the candy secretly
melting in her mouth would be a kind of
private meditation in order to preserve her
sense of self in a belittling situation.
Things were going well. She needed that
"No, he's not at his desk right now,"
the receptionist dragged in a good and
proper lie. "No, he doesn't see applicants.
The first thing you want to do is send a
copy of your resume to Personnel and
they'll take it from there... Whatever is
necessary, I'm sure." J. sank a little with
the person on the other end of the line
but couldn't help feeling just a wee bit
superior for at least having gotten in the
door. She imagined herself in just a few
years running a good chunk of the place,
being kind and understanding to her secre-
tary, and going home to a fabulously
remodeled kitchen. "No, no he doesn't...
No, no... No, he's one of the biggest and
not many people get to, eh... Yes, yes you
may." At last a positive token signaled
impending conclusion. It came with "Uh
huh." J. was intrigued. One of the big-
gest what? She almost smirked openly at
her first thought, which was quickly fol-
lowed by a decision to fire that recep-
tionist as soon as she was in charge.
Just then two men in dark blue suits
walked in tandem through the reception
area. "No, we're the victims here," one
was arguing. "But this is the real world,"
protested the other. As they passed the
receptionist, she closed her eyes and
groaned to herself, loudly enough to be
heard by the executives.
"Just swimming," thought J. "Must be a
temp. What kind of place is this, any-
way?" She allowed her eyes to dart rapidly
around the lobby, which seemed to open
onto many more corridors than she had
noticed when she came in. There was a
whole catacomb of corridors, basically in
shadow but with shafts of sunlight oc-
casionally beaming yellow rectangles onto
the glossy linoleum floor. Suddenly she
realized that she was slouching, and as
she worked herself up straight, she found
herself hoping that the receptionist wasn't
on such terms with her prospective boss
that she could report such sloppiness to
him. She leaned forward to replace the
magazine on the table.
"You just stay in your seat, young lady,"
snapped the receptionist, just like Mrs.
Mandell, The Walrus, had once done in the
eighth grade when J. had only wanted to
go to the bathroom. And suddenly lurch-
ing forward, the receptionist cracked with
a squeaky-door creek like the Wicked
Witch of the West, "And don't even think
about stealing any of our paperclips while
you're here, like the rest of them. We
count 'em." Apparently pleased with the
shock she must have been able to see on J.'s
face, she let loose a shrill cackle that sent
chills through J. She was flabbergasted.
How could this be happening in the cor-
porate world? Maybe the receptionist was
just trying to be funny, the cluck. But
maybe she herself was overreacting. She
had gotten up much earlier than usual
and stayed up late with Ted "When We
Come Back" Koppel and the Experts.
Radiation was seeping into Russia and
mixing with the world's winds. Even if it
posed no immediate danger to America,
she still felt threatened and undermined by
something ominous, something basically
inimical to life, something entirely mys-
terious. It must be that she hadn't gotten
enough sleep and was dulled and on edge.
Yet the receptionist was cackling loudly.
The whole building would hear. Could she
put up with having to bid good morning
to this woman five days a week for months
to come? What was she willing to do for
The two men in blue suits walked back
across the lobby, alternating rapidly with
"No, yours very truly," and "No, very
truly yours," over and over again, walk-
ing in purposeful rapture back into the
corporate thought mines. J. suddenly re-
membered that she had made a special
effort that morning to remember to take
with her a clean handkerchief, as this was
spring, and her mother had taught her
long ago that a young lady was always
prepared during hayfever season with a
handkerchief. What a comforting scene
she was able to draw up from safe subur-
ban days gone by, of a sunny fenced yard
brimming with bright yellow forsythia,
patches of shade dancing on cool tuits of
green grass beneath a huge, friendly old
Two men J. had not seen before, again
in blue suits, were loitering at the edge of
the lobby. "Cost-effective," determined one.
"Efficiency report," tittered the other, over
and over with a compulsive rhythm.
"Help," sounded a little voice in the back
of J.'s mind. She wanted to be warm in
bed on a cold night, watching a favorite
rerun on the late show. "Business as usual,"
she thought more loudly to herself, settling
back in resignation, when suddenly the
woman behind the desk pulled out a
great, frosty mug of beer, guzzled it en-
tirely without pausing, and belched like a
drunken sailor. She picked at a speck of
lint on her blouse. She turned up the radio.
A news blurbing personality was inter-
viewing an expert on radiation, but they
were talking about Soviet ice cream. It
was rather good, they decided.
Could this be the start of the apoca-
lypse? Could it come in mounting nibblets
of chaos, slipping largely unnoticed into a
catastrophic crescendo increasingly out of
hand? Could the end of the world catch
everybody off guard? Was it a mistake to
accept images of stability in everyday life?
What if everything known — the children,
the trees, the beggars, the cities, television.
Mother Theresa — all were suddenly shuffled
and redealt beyond the verge and over
the brink? Terrorism. The space shuttle.
South Africa. Depleted ozone. Nuclear
disaster. Bombs. AIDS. Unable to find
matching shoes for her favorite new pais-
ley spring print.
From the radio there came an interview
with a Soviet functionary. He seemed to
be saying that John Lermon had been shot,
but the chanting of the businessmen kept
her from making out what was going on.
Her head swirled. Would there never be a
prince to save her from all this? What
would it all amount to if this were sud-
denly It? Was global disaster going to snuff
PKOCeSSED WORLD 19
her out before she had even started on
her dreams? All those lost possibilities.
A fat man in a dark brown suit was
shoving a young man in a light grey suit
into the lobby, almost forcing him to the
floor. "Evans, your failure to chai\ge that
one to a two cost this company a great
deal of money and credibility. Not oi\ly
are you fired, but I want to see your ass
in the parking lot at five o'clock so I can
kick it, and kick it hard." He dragged
Evans by the shoulder to the doors. Evans,
obviously greatly embarrassed by the se-
verity of his blunder, resisted only to the
extent that was necessary to remain gene-
rally upright. Shoved out of the door, he
was thus disposed of. The fat man now
began bellowing, apparently at J., from
behind. She sprai\g to her feet and turned
to face him as he huffed on a brutally
foul cigar, fists clenched at his side. "We're
waitii\g for your urinalysis test," he gritted.
"Now!" How horrible to be treated to such
menacing before an interview, and by
such a presumptuous, insubstantial, subur-
ban jerk. Would they find evidence of the
two tokes she had taken at a party two
months ago? This was really beneath dig-
nity. J. was si>eechless. What if she couldn't
go? Would everyone in the lobby be al-
lowed to know? Should she just walk out
without saying another word or make
some kind of protest? She wondered if
she'd be able to get in the last word and
score a victory. Then she remembered her
gaping need for a paycheck. The recep-
tionist, somehow having managed to
change into a nurse's white uniform,
stepped up to the fat man, and, stiap-
pii\g tightly on a little wad of gum, cooed,
for J.'s benefit, into his ear, "And if she
doesn't turn in her blue book by three,
she's got to go to the basement. Not much
sun down there."
The blue book! J. was gripped by panic.
She hadn't even started to write in the blue
book. How much time was there left?
How could she write intelligently now?
She would probably need an A to get the
job. How could she get an A now? How
demeaning it was for a person as vulgar
as this receptionist to hold sway over
whether she was to get a job. This was
horrible. And all she could thirxk of was
her mechanic who smiled too much, the
ongoing need to have her car tuned and
the extra thirteen dollars it cost her to
bounce her last rent check. The commotion
around her was rising. Two secretaries
now installed themselves behind her in the
lobby, giggliitg about how goii\g to "SB
colon two thirty eight" got them "wiped
out." She wasn't able to follow what was
A man in grimy overalls strode into the
lobby and walked right up to her with a
credit card form, ready to sign, on a dirty
little plastic tray. He extended it to
her with a cheap ball-point pen and said
with a smile, "two hundred and forty
dollars, Miss, and three cents. Hey, that's
pretty good. We don't hardly ever get no
orders that end in three cents." She knew
she didn't have that kind of money. And
what was he doing here? Had she called
him for emergency road service? She had
to run. She knew she couldn't abandon
her appointment if she was to have any
hope of getting the job, but she could
stand it no longer and dashed into the near-
est corridor, a lump swelling in her throat.
"You think they can even tell they're get-
tin' radiation?" she heard coming over the
walls of a cubicle. She rounded a comer.
Sensing that they must be close behind,
and painfully aware that she was not wear-
ing the requisite visitor's badge, she dodged
through a pair of service doors and found
herself running down a dirt road heading
across a wide weedy field, just as from
the parking lot to her right there came a
swell of passionless violins from loudspea-
kers atop tall metal poles, playing easy
listening music twenty-four hours a day.
There was a railroad crossing just ahead,
the bells were begirming to clang, the gates
were coming down. A great freight train
with four locomotives was rumbling up
from the plains beyond. J. noticed the re-
ceptionist at her desk, apparently on wheels,
now parked in front of the gate, still in a
nurse's uniform. "OiJy another hour to
hand in that blue book or it's to the base-
ment with you," she hollered just before a
few warning blasts from the train whistle.
"Not much sun down there." And again
came her insane cackling against the rising
throbbing of the approaching engines.
The blue book, I. couldn't remember
where she had left the blue book. It must
be back in the lobby. She had been fight-
ing off sleep the whole morning. What
else might she have missed? The blue
book. Surely she couldn't ask for another
one at this point. The receptionist would
think that she was trying to cheat. She
hadn't even studied. What were the ques-
tions? What could she write about? Would
they all know that she was just faking it
when she finally failed to hand in the blue
book? She wasn't really qualified to work
as a word processor. Would she ever get
a job? The train whistle was blaring.
J. decided to lie down on the grass,
just for five minutes, and look at the sky.
"Just five minutes," she thought, "then I'll
go back to the lobby and straighten this
whole thing out." As soon as she had
begun to doze off, the train roared thun-
derously by. J. sat up straight with a
start. A news report was being intoned
on her bedside clock-radio. Iodine tablets
were being given to children in Poland.
What was this happening? Where? The
time, the armouncer said, was nineteen
minutes past the hour. She looked at the
clock. The day was just beginning. The
blue book! There was no need to turn in
the blue book! No blue book. \ wave of
relief washed over her. She let her head
hit the pillow. "Five more minutes," she
thought, turning up the radio to make
sure she wouldn't drift off too far. She
had to be on time for that interview. She
needed a job. She gazed over at the spot
on the waU where the paint had chippjed
away, leaving a shape that always re-
minded her of Iceland. "Just five more
by David Ross
PROCESSED WORLD 19
Small Is Not Beautiful
Life at the Bay Guardian
— TALE OF TOIL —
Mt's 9:00 Friday night. The last stragglers
from the editorial department have de-
parted. The other typesetter and I have
the Bay Guardian building to ourselves.
Two piles of manila folders sit on the
typesetting machine, to my left. They
contain the order slips for classified ads.
One pile gradually dwindles as the folders
are moved to the other pile, marking my
progress. The machine occasionally clanks
as it changes typestyle or size.
"Love is friendship caught fire!" appears at the
top of the video screen. Ah, yes. The relationships
section. This, the fattest of the file folders, should
keep my fingers busy for the rest of my 9-10-hour-
long shift. When I first began typesetting the classi-
fieds, I found the relationships section sort of poig-
nant. "All those people out there looking to connect
with somebody. " / thought about the care some peo-
ple take in choosing just the right words. But as
the Friday nights came and went, I soon became
jaded and the words slipped through my fingers in a
The San Francisco Bay Guardian was founded by
Bruce Brugmann and his wife, Jean Dibble, in 1966.
Unlike other alternative papers of that era, such as
the Berkeley Barb and the L.A. Free Press, the BG
wasn't counter-cultural. Nor did it follow the political
currents of the '60s New Left, as did the National
Guardian in New York. Brugmann's journalistic
background was in the commercial dailies.
Nonetheless, the Bay Guardian has always had
political pretensions, and its pages uphold various
leftist causes — environmental protection,
abortion rights, rent control.
We asked: **When is the
Bay Guardian going to protect its own
VDT workers?** A BG manager replied: '*Soon.*'
'^^^'^^Two years later glare shields still hadn't arrived.
unions, anti-Manhattanization — and expose mono-
polistic abuses. To the BG "politics" is primarily a
matter of elections, and, thus, of the politicians who
control the top-down machinery of American gov-
ernment. The paper has been supportive of such
groups as Democratic Socialists of America, Berkeley
Citizens Action, and Tom Hayden's now-defunct
Campaign for Economic Democracy.
In 1971 the Bay Guardian was "a chronically strug-
gling business," writes James Brice, "with a spare
17,000 subscribers paying for the four issues it ma-
naged to publish" that year. "Dibble and Brugmann
hoped the paper could make money," says Brice, "if
it went weekly" but they lacked the necessary capi-
tal. Ironically, they got it from their archrivals, the
Like a number of other papers in the Bay Area,
the BG had filed an antitrust suit in the late 60's
against the two remaining dailies in San Francisco,
the Hearst -owned Examiner and the Chronicle. The
two dailies had merged their advertisii\g and produc-
tion operations, an action authorized by the News-
paper Preservation Act of 1965, which granted a
special antitrust exemption to daily newspapers.
In May 1975, Brugmann and Dibble dropped their
lawsuit in exchange for an out-of-court settlement of
$500,000. (The lawyers got about $200,000.) This
was a rather shrewd move as the papers that pur-
sued the lawsuit to the end (such as the Pacific Sun)
When the BG became a free weekly in the late '70s,
the larger circulation and weekly schedule
enabled the paper to capture a
growing share of the
PROC£iSED WORIO 19
advertising market. Although advertising
by the major local retailers (Macy's, Em-
porium Capwell, etc.) remains safely in
the pocket of the big dailies, the BG's
increased circulation made it attractive to
national advertisers, and the full-page ads
for cigarettes and liquor contributed con-
siderably to BG revenue. The paper made
its first profit in fiscal 1982. From January
1982 to January 1985 the paper's classified
ad lineage increased from 20 cents to 60
cents, this means the paper's classified ad
revenue increased by approximately 495%.
And in 1984 management increased the
print-rvm of its entertainment section to
100,000 copies, and then jacked up the
rates for entertainment advertising.
The BG's craven reliance on business ad-
vertising necessarily shapes its editorial
direction. The packet distributed to po-
tential advertisers candidly admits this:
"The Guardian tailors its editorial ma-
terial to [anl audience" of 24-to-36-year-old
"self -involved consumers." "EXPOSE
YOURSELF! to 180,000 hot young pro-
fessionals with money to bum." Certain
issues each year were planned out in ad-
vance so as to appeal to specific segments
of the business community (consumer
electronics, wine, etc.)
Despite the BG's new-found profitability
and ever-growing production pressures,
wages remained low. In 1982 production
artists and proofreaders were paid about
$5.50 per hour. By 1985 the rate had inched
up from $6.00 to $6.50. Typesetters were
paid $5.50 when I was hired in 1982;
today the starting rate is $7.50. Pay for
clerical and sales staff in Classified was
approximately the same.
It was considered a privilege to work in
Editorial but pay in that department was,
if anything, even lower. Editorial staff is
paid a salary, which enables the BG to
avoid overtime pay. At the end of 1984, the
copy editor was making the equivalent
of $6.50 an hour, while some editorial
staffers were paid even less. Early in 1985,
the woman hired to compile the weekly
entertainment listings had been assured a
four-day week for $150. But she found
that the job required a 40-hour week, and
so she decided to have a chat with Alan
Kay, the managing editor. "Am I going
to get paid for Fridays?" she asked. Alan
put his head in his hands, then looked up
at her. "How about a restaurant meal?" he
asked plaintively. Her pay amounted to less
than $4 per hour.
ENTER DISTRICT 65
I was hired in 1982 towards the end of
a year-long effort to organize the staff
into District 65. District 65, a union of
textile and dry goods wholesale workers
originally founded by Communists in the
'30s, has organized publishing industry
workers in New York City in recent years.
Here in San Francisco, District 65, now
affiliated to the United Auto Workers
(UAW), is the union of the Mother Jones
Low pay and lack of any say in decis-
ions seemed to be the two main areas of
concern among BG workers. When man-
agement learned that members of the
staff were trying to persuade co-workers
to join a union, a meeting was called.
Brugmann ranted about how uruons would
MEAN "outside control" of the paper.
On the issue of low pay, management
pleaded poverty. Members of the staff
responded by asking what salaries manage-
ment were getting. If the paper's finances
are limited, a number of staffers thought,
then management salaries should be re-
duced to allow raises for the lowest paid.
But BG management refused to tell us
how much money managers were taking
out of the paper.
About this time a meeting with a repre-
sentative of District 65 was held for BG
workers. The issues of the paper's editori-
al direction and its increasing subservi-
ence to advertisers were raised, along
with the idea of lowering management
salaries so as to raise workers' pay.
"Unions can't take on issues of editorial
content, or ask that managers' salaries
be lowered," Dibble asserted.
What she was getting at is that the
National Labor Relations Board (NLRB)
and courts carmot require employers to
negotiate these issues. But just because
the government won't compel an employer
to negotiate contested issues doesn't mean
unions can't raise them. A workers or-
ganization can try to fight for anything it
wants to. What workers can achieve ul-
timately depends upon the power they can
bring to bear on the situation. This is
affected by such factors as internal co-
hesion among the workers and support in
the community. This is true even for issues
that employers are nominally required by
law to negotiate, such as wages, hours and
benefits. The government can't be counted
on to support workers' demands.
Some members of the BG staff were
dissatisfied with Ehstrict 65's rather ruirrow,
legalistic approach. What was needed was
an independent organization, some of us
thought, an organization that we could
control directly. An independent group
did continue for a while, but eventually
stopped meeting. Nonetheless, a pattern of
solidarity and mutual consultation had
been established and continued ii\formally.
THE STRIKE IN 1976
As the District 65 organizing drive
fizzled out, about a dozen people quit.
This was not the first BG unionization
attempt. The first such effort led to an
NLRB vote in December 1975, which
certified the Bay Area Typographical
Union (ITU) and the Newspaper Giiild as
the recognized unions at the paper.
Staff pay had been very low in the
early '70s— base rates then ranged from
$2.50 to $3.75 per hour. Benefits were
nonexistent. A long-standing graffito in
the employees' lavatory had the words
"Guardian health plan" inked in large
letters, with an arrow pointing to a draw-
Continued from last issue
PROCESSED WORLD 79
ing of a book. The book was entitled
"Holy Bible. "
In its early days the paper had an in-
formal atmosphere and lines of authority
were rather vague — not unusual at small
"start-up" companies. Then came the
$300,000 from the anti-trust settlement.
"The deathly poor newspaper that had
shared its poverty with its beggarly staff
now seemed richly endowed," writes
But decisions about what to do with the
money were quickly made by those at the
top, before staffers had a chance to have
any say over what should be done with
it. Money was poured into new type-
setting equipment and a down-payment on
a building. "The settlement made us feel
more left out of the decision-making pro-
cess," recalled Katy Butler (now a Chron-
cle reporter). At the same time, the change
to a weekly schedule meant increased pro-
Though staffers were concerned about
the low wages and lack of benefits or job
security, these issues were "secondary to
job satisfaction and worker participation
in decision-making," according to Brice.
"A union seemed to be a sure way to gain
leverage." Hence the vote for the ITU and
After six months of table-pounding ne-
gotiations, the union reduced its wage
demand to 25 cents per hour across-the-
board. Employees also wanted one week
notice of termination, an agreed grievance
procedure, limited sick pay, and pay for
overtime. But the BG refused these de-
mands, and in June of 76, 21 employees,
both full-time and part time walked out.
The bitter strike — marked by vandalism
and sabotage — dragged on for eight
Recently, Bruce Brugmann has described
this struggle as an attempt by "the unions
from the local newspaper monopoly ... to
impose their standard contract on a strug-
gling, competitive, independent small
business."* The concerns of the workers
thus disappear, they become non-entities.
Funny how he was no less opposed, in
1982 to District 65, which has no con-
tracts at the "monopoly" dailies.
Informal solidarity, as I mentioned, had
continued to exist in the wake of the Dis-
trict 65 organiziiTg drive even though no
on-going organization had gotten en-
trenched at the BG. This was necessary to
deal with the BG's arbitrary management
practices. An incident in 1984 illustrates
The BG advertises its job openings in
the classified section of the paper each
week. The BG Employee Manual states
that notice of openings must be posted
and current employees given preference.
However, while typesetting the BG job ads
one week, the typesetters came across an
advertisement for an ad designer.
But the BG already had an ad designer,
a Japanese immigrant who had done the
job for a number of years. Management
had tried to demote him a couple of years
before, but then backed down. Anyway, a
group of artists and typesetters protested
the rurming of this ad, but our boss dis-
claimed responsibility for this violation of
written policy and past guarantees. Some
time that weekend the job ad disappeared
from the classified page flats and the ad
was erased from computer disk.
BG management were not very happy
about this sabotage, we heard, and rumors
of firings were in the air. "If they fire any-
once, we should all go on strike," one woman
remarked to me. I think quite a few pro-
duction staff members felt that way. How-
ever, a meeting was held and we were re-
assured that no demotion was going to
take place. At the same time, four people
were singled out for written warnings
about "tampering with the work product."
In the wake of this incident some of us
met with a business agent from the Graphic
Communications Union (GCIU). The press
operators at the shop where the BG was
printed belong to this union. If we ever
went on strike, we knew that the first
thing we'd want to do would be to appeal
to the press operators to refuse to print the
The business agent gave us a copy of
the printing industry master contract.
* "A look back at the strike nobody won,"
Mediafile, June, 1973
* Bill Mandel's column, SF Examiner, Oct. 29, 1986.
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PROCESSED WORLD 19
which some of us discussed later. The
worst clause in the contract stated: "There
will be no strike or other econonuc pressure
through concerted action by the employees
and/or the union." In other words, workers'
hands are tied while any beefs inch through
the bureaucratic grievance machinery
to final arbitration. "But the only way we
are able to get anything around here is
through collective pressure," one BG
The contract also stipulated that dues
be deducted from the employees' pay-
checks and then sent directly to the union.
In decades past, dues were not deducted
and shop stewards had to go around
hustling the members' dues, which gave
members the opportunity to push their
Why couldn't BG employees remain
independent and still appeal to the press
operators to not print the paper in the
event of a strike? Another clause in the
press operators' contract explains the
problem: "Employees ... shall not be re-
quired to cross a picket line because of a
strike if sanctioned by the Central Labor
Council ..." This means the printers are
not allowed to take action to support a
strike— such as refusing to print a struck
paper— without the approval of the top
local AR-CIO officials. Without such
sanction, the printers would be at risk of
losing their jobs. The purpose of this sort
of contract is to ensure that workers soli-
darity is controlled by top officials rather
than the workers themselves. The em-
ployers gain by the union's promise not
to disrupt production and the officials gain
control over the labor movement.
Even if the bureaucratic AFL-CIO-type
unions encourage little real solidarity be-
tween workers in different workplaces,
small groups of workers will tend to seek
the protection of these unions because they
offer at least the promise of greater lever-
age, however illusory this may be. This
tendency is likely to prevail until there
emerges an independent workers move-
ment that can provide an alternative for
groups of workers seeking a larger move-
ment to ally with.
OBSTACLES TO WORKER
The BG has been able to maintain a
"union-free environment" and contain
periodic bouts of disaffection through a
combination of circumstances. For one
thing, many BG staffers are employed
part-time. I've overheard the production
manager say to a prospective new hire,
'This job is just to get some extra money."
When people have another job, they are
less likely to regard the part-time job as
important enough to commit time to or-
ganizing with others. A workforce be-
comes fragmented as part-timers predomi-
nate. When people don't see each other
regularly, if at all, they develop less of
the cohesion that is natural to a group of
people who work together, and which is
necessary for collective action.
The large number of part-timers lowers
BG labor costs. Less than half of the pro-
duction staff worked the minimum 30
hours a week needed to qualify for health
insurance. Low wages, minimal benefits
and lousy conditions tend to produce turn-
over. While I worked at the- BG, the
average production employee stayed only
Organization among workers in small,
low-wage business like the BG is more
likely to develop when there is a broader
movement with which groups of workers
in particular workplaces can ally them-
selves. A nonbureaucratic workers move-
ment, that is actually run by rank-and-file
workers themselves, would not be as de-
pendent on institutionadized contract bar-
gaining to have a presence in workplaces.
This would make it easier for workers to
participate in the movement despite high
turnover and movement from job to job.
The Industrial Workers of the Worid
(I WW) was an example of such a move-
ment in the earlier decades of this century.
Many of the people who worked in mines,
aboard ships, on construction projects,
and on farm harvests in the Western states
in those years moved around from job to
job. Nevertheless, the IWW was able to
maintain effective organizations in a
number of these industries despite the ab-
sence of a stable workforce. The move-
ment's presence in a workplace didn't de-
pend upon a union contract or govern-
ment certification but on workers acting
"in union" with each other. Workers re-
mained members of the union no matter
where they worked. And workers in one
workplace were less isolated as they had
a sense of being part of a larger move-
ment. The mix of occupations and indus-
tries may be different today, but the fail-
ures of the top-down, institutionalized
unions show clearly the need for a new,
non-bureaucratic workers movement.
— Tom Wetzel
OF VDTs &. Hypocrisy
In their June 6, 1984 issue the BG
published an expose by Loren Stein
and Laurie Fink on the health hazards
associated with work on video display
terminals (VDTs). "In the U.S. and Eu-
rope," Stein and Ffnk reported, "40%
to 80% of VDT operators responding
to medical surveys have reported they
suffer from eyestrain, chronic head-
aches, back pain, blurred vision and
other ailments. VDT operators have
also been the single largest source of
health complaints received by the Na-
tional Institute of Occupational Safety
and Health (NIOSH) during the past
In her women's health column in that
same issue, Alice Wolfson wrote: "A
1981 study of VDT operators conducted
by INIOSH] found that clerical workers
using VDTs had the highest occupa-
tional stress ever recorded, higher
even than air traffic controllers." The
BG had also published an earlier article
on this same topic. "VDTs and Health,"
In August 1983. This series of articles
appeared around the time Tom Hayden
introduced his VDT worker health bill
into the California legislature, which
the BG supported editorially.
At about the same time the BG hired
a new production manager who tried
to revamp labor relations in her depart-
ment. Staffers were invited to air their
concerns at a department meeting.
We typesetters, who work on VDTs,
pointed out such problems as glare
from overhead fluorescent lights (which
causes eye-strain and headaches) and
lousy chairs (which cause backaches).
We proposed that the BG acquire glare
shields and sturdy chairs, and that
typesetters be encouraged to take fre-
The production manager agreed. We
perused office furniture catalogs and
found chairs In the $150-$ 180 range
that were sturdy and height-adjustable.
And we tracked down an Inexpensive
glare shield, which also guards against
low-level radiation, for about $55 each.
Only two of each Item were needed;
the total bill would be less than $500.
We were assured that these items
would be purchased.
The BG did buy new chairs but they
weren't the ones we had chosen, and,
being much cheaper, soon fell apart.
But the glare shields never showed.
Soon typesetters posted signs near
our machines, encouraging five minute
breaks every hour. But these were soon
taken down. We posted another sheet
on the lavatory wall, asking: "When Is
the BG going to protect Its own VDT
workers?" A BG manager then taped a
reply next to it stating that glare shields
would be purchased soon. But two
years later they still hadn't arrived.
Early In 1985 the BG acquired eight
microcomputers and a $2,000 compu-
ter-to-typesetter Interface. Without
warning, several typesetting and proof-
reading shifts were eliminated -along
with several part-timers. The editorial
staff now work on VDTs, and the health
hazards that we typesetters pointed
out in 1984 now endanger them as
PROCESSED WORLD 19
Byting Into Books
A Review of: Cultures in Contention (Ed. Doug-
las Kahn and Diane Neumaier. 1985, Seattle,
Real Comet Press).
'ery slick, this weighty creative-sub-
versive activity disguised as a coffee-table
picture book. There are lots of photos of
troublemakers at work, of "greatest hits" leaflets
(the early 70s "Jump for Jesus" poster calling for mass
suicide at the Golden Gate Bridge), and of comics
(story of the Yippies tossing dollar bills onto the
floor of the NY Stock Exchange). There are also
excellent reproductions of Hans Haacke's photomon-
tages, Judy Baca's murals, billboards, alternative and
defaced, even lesbian postcards! But back to the
weighty — weighty for whom? The book lies some-
where between the turgid culture page of your local
"progressive" paper and the arcane universe of de-
anti-post-deep structuralmodemism art "discourse."
Its essays mostly reflect efforts to produce political
statements in live performance (singing, theater,
demonstrations) or in the visual realm (posters, mu-
rals, displays, video, art world stuff). There is a little
on writing or film and even less on popular music,
though these have perhaps gotten enough coverage
elsewhere. Most of the work comes out of the U.S.,
but there is also a good deal from places such as
Nicaragua, Jamaica, Kenya, England, Japan, and
I am less interested in how the book addresses
questions in the abstract, like the relation of art to
politics, than in the light the book casts on the crea-
tive/political projects 1 have occasionally engaged in
and obsessed over with friends and coworkers in the
past several years. Inventive theater and props, fre-
quent humor, irony or sarcasm, and my rediscovery
that radicalism could be fun were all invigorating
after my exit from politically correct, left Dullsville.
But this is the eighties, baby; every firing, every fic-
tion, every authoritarian insult, every new
"theatrical" invasion or
A Review of: The Whale and the Reactor — A
Search for Limits in an Age of High Technology,
by Langdon Winner, University of Chicago
"Writers who venture beyond the most
pedestrian, dreary conceptions of tools
and uses to investigate ways in which
technological forms are implicated in the basic pat-
terns and problems of our culture are often greeted
with the charge that they are merely 'antitechnology'
or 'blaming technology.' All who have recently
stepped forward as critics in this realm have been
tarred with the same idiot brush, an expression of
the desire to stop a much needed dialogue rather
than enlarge it. If any readers want to see the present
work as 'antitechnology, ' make the most of it. That
is their topic, not mine. " — Langdon Winner
.his is a fine, ambitious book. More than that,
it's a good radical introduction to the politics of tech-
nology. It's short and reasonably well written, yet
it covers all the bases, and covers them well. It does
suffer a dumb title, but we'll kindly assume that the
publisher forced it on Winner.
Winner begjiK his "search for limits" with a call for
a philosophy of technology, the task of which "is
to examine critically the nature and significance of
artificial aids to human activity." With the techno-
sphere supplanting the ecosphere as our most "natu-
ral" habitat, it's getting hard to see the image for the
pixels. The commonplaces of technology criticism —
in which the machine is taken as either neutral, evil
or progressive — have long been obstacles to a deeper
perspective. It's well to step back, not in the_
interests of academic
cont'd, on p. 46
cont'd, next page
''Are there no shared
ends that matter to us any longer
other than the desire to be affluent while avoid-
ing the risk of cancer? The answer may be no/*
PUOCfSSfO WORLD 19
every new hysterical media outburst over
sex, drugs, or disappearing kids tells me
again that the mischievous little actions I
engage in DONT MEAN SHIT (Now, now,
another voice soothes, you never know
what an action leads to... Remember Nixon
swearing at his tape recorder about demon-
strators ruining his "peace negotiations?").
Anyhow, I don't w«mt to give up doing
these fun projectsi I just want to have a
better idea of where it's all going (yes, I
admit it, I still want to be politically
correct I). Getting back to the book, its
range of writing about oppositional art is
incredibly broad and the editors' introduc-
tion was too general to make the connec-
tions I was lookii\g for. But as I skipped
around, submerged correspondences and
dialogues appecired, and my favorite nag-
ging questions popped up; these connec-
tions will be the focus of my remarks here.
For one submerged dialogue, compare
the lengthy interview with Los Angeles
Chicana muralist Judy Baca to Peter King's
article on "underground" billboard altera-
tion in Australia. Baca's efforts to cover
southern California concrete with images
of her people's journey north and their
fate in the land of prosperity are amazing.
By combining community and youth-
organizing with pressure on state agencies
for permission and funding, Baca had in-
troduced alternative images of history and
community beneath the glare of Holly-
wood spectacle. She and her friends have
also trained a growing number of young,
visual eirtists outside the rarified art-school
world. The Australian grafittists, on the
other hand, use illegal and essentially anti-
state methods. Drawing on the environ-
mental movement in Australia, they have
not only attacked advertising for un-
healthy goodies like cigarettes and cola but
redefined advertising's "transparent" mani-
pulation (as in the "Emperor's New
Clothes") as cultural pollution, billboards
advertising local "Eyewitless News" being
an example. While more temporary than
a mural, these alterations attract more
attention. And though the grafittists weren't
able to involve people as easily as in a
mural project, they did manage to draw a
considerable number of participants into
an extended campaign. Its cumulative ef-
fects and the ensuing public trials further
amplified their work.
Even more striking is the contrast be-
tween Abbie Hoffman's reminiscences of
counterculture theater actions and the
carefully plotted media events described
in "Feminist Media Strategies for Political
Performance." The contrast is partly one of
different eras; the Hoffman piece is six-
ties-ish in its colorful rapid-fire description.
today the IRS ruled
& recreational drugs
can no longer be
deducted as work-
sharp observation, and superficial analysis,
while the piece by Suzanne Lacy and Lucy
Labowitz is pure seventies: a functional
how-to guide for doing theatrical actions
for media impact that aims to scientifi-
cally manipulate the media rather than
short-circuit it. Hoffman's stories are a joy
to read. Lacy's and Labowitz's technical
summary style, however, drains away the
excitement and creativity of such actions.
Their distinctions between artist and acti-
vist, focus on contacting established groups
already dealing with performance, and em-
phasis on tight organization, while being
useful, practical politics, reflect the frag-
mentation and reformist boredom that
plague us, particularly in times of political
quiescence. Yet Hoffman's piece lacks the
distanced reflection that one expects twen-
ty years after an action. Both pieces focus
on how a message is communicated and
transformed through the medium of com-
mercial television; in that sense both are
useful to activists and troublemakers and
supersede the typical, leftist unconscious-
ness of the theatrical aspect of a public
action. Hoffman clearly shows the power
of a single image, such as throwing money
onto the floor of the New York Stock Ex-
change, but he is guilty of a sixties relapse,
when he suggests that interpretation and
analysis of actions/ images should be left
to the intellectuals.
These disputes also apply to Peter Dunn's
and Loraine Leeson's "The Changing
Picture of Docklands" and Tom Ward's
'The Situationists Reconsidered." Dunn
and Leeson describe their experience of
working as political artists in conjunc-
tion with union and tenant groups
fighting redevelopment in East London.
They start their essay with a polemic against
the widespread, leftist notion of working-
which the left is supposed to crack with
the well-aimed toss of a brilliant Marxist
concept. Instead they cirgue for interven-
tions that engender critical, deconstructive
thought, interventions which are both
visually attractive and emotionally moving.
They also criticize the academic tendency
to deconstruct elements of the capitalist
media spectacle, which ignores actual
struggles when such deconstruction be-
The authors worked on a series of bill-
board messages, displayed in a central
neighborhood location, which questioned
the redevelopment process in the area.
The continuity of the billboard series
(reprinted in the book) attracted attention,
designed as it was to be peeled, layer after
layer, in a kind of metamorphosis. Their
working method depended on repeated
consultation with local community acti-
vists and organizations. Fundii\g was ob-
tained through London's Labour-dominated
government (since dismantled by Thatcher).
Against art-world elitism, the authors
redefine their roles as servants to the
cause. Artist and activist are presented
as fixed categories — artsy intellectual vs.
stolid leaders of the proletariat — simplis-
tically assuming that artists are middle-
class and school-trained, and activists are
automatically representative of local people
in struggle. Though I oversimplify their
argument here, they never once deal with
the bureaucratization of working people's
representatives in the twentieth century,
a dilemma for both Labour Party acti-
vists in Britain and labor and community
activists in the U.S.
In comparision Tom Ward's essay is
spicy and pungent. It attempts to sum-
marize the history and outlook of the
French Situationists and to evaluate the
work of their American counterparts, par-
ticularly in the San Francisco Bay Area.
In doing so, he documents Processed
World's origins and makes some acidic
observations about the U.S. left as a
whole. The Situationists eschewed from
the start the distinctions that Dunn and
Leeson hold so dear; rather than working
as "artists" with "activists," the Situation-
ists created a kind of artistic activism,
seeking to realize art in everyday life and
thus surpassing the Dadaist and Surrealist
projects on which they based themselves.
Instead of building the norms of electoral
politics into the methods, the Situationists
sought to explode them, following the lead
of antibureaucratic revolutions ranging
from the Paris Commune of 1871 to the
wildcat French general strike of May 1968.
No servants of the people here; all activity
is undertaken "for ourselves," and every-
body else is urged to do the same by
forming assemblies of self-rule rather than
accepting party platforms.
Ward's piece is pieppered with the draw-
ings, mock advertisements, and promotional
hoaxes produced by his comrades over
the years in the brilliant and corrosive
style they are known for. All these "art
works" were tactically used to jolt people
out of familiar routines and into some
cont'd, on p. 46
PROCESSED WORLD 19
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PROCfSSfD WORLD 19
cont'd, from p. 44
kind of revolutionary motion. Yet, as
Ward points out, scandalous propaganda
rarely achieves any visible effect after its
big splash. Its tactics and small-group con-
text should be remedied, he writes, by the
development of medium-range strategy,
program and organization, a tantalizing
notion. How such mundane, medium-range
projections can be reconciled with the
world-destroying absolutism of the Situa-
tionist vision is not really explained.
So what does this have to do with the
aesthetics of feminist video, with Sweet
Honey in the Rock's black feminist a ca-
pella music, or with Ernesto Cardenal's
address to UNESCO on Nicaraguan cul-
ture? I'm not sure, but it's all in the same
book. Probably most people who buy the
book don't care; they are interested in a
few pieces that are right up their alleys
and maybe later they'll look at the other
essays they'd never read otherwise. If the
book lacks a strict political or stylistic
identity, it also reflects the actual breadth
and variety of creative political activity
today. That's my kind of identity confu-
sion. From such wide-ranging reflection,
creative politics can start to develop a
coherent strategy for its own growth.
— fcy Jejf Coldthorpe
cont'd, from p. 43
to wake up and see straight.
We are currently. Winner says, asleep,
victims of a "technologiccil somnambulism"
that has us stvimbling through a fragmented
chaotic and increasingly technological
world with no language with which to
understand it. Vast social transformations
are routinely initiated with little, if any,
attention given to their sodal meaiung.
The auto transforms the city, the nuke
transforms war, the computer transforms
everything, yet the conventional wisdom is
that the tumult of mechanization is only
an unfortunate collection of "side-effects."
Wirmer's wisdom differs: "New Worlds are
being made," he tells us, and "there is
nothing secondary" about this phenomenon.
It is, in fact, the most important accomplish-
ment of any new technology."
Winner doesn't try to develop a full
blown philosophy here. There are a few
important pointers— to Wittgenstein and
to Marx — but most of his effort has gone
into clearing the underbrush. Wirmer's
book is a collection of critiques: of tech-
nological determinism ("Being saddled
with it is like attempting to describe all
instances of sexual intercourse with only
the concept of rape"), of cost/benefit anal-
ysis and its flatland language of "risks,"
"side effects" and "impacts,' of Appropri-
ate Technology, the Computer Revolution,
Deep Ecology, and the sanitized rhetoric
In place of jdl these tidy systems, he in-
vites us to stop equivocating, and simply
proceed with the assumption that tech-
nology structures our societies and our
lives: "In an important sense we become
the beings who work on assembly lines,
who talk on telephones, who do our figur-
ing on pocket calculators, who eat pro-
cessed foods, who clean our homes with
powerful chemicals." He proposes that
we spend our energies making finer dis-
tinctions, with politics and the quality of
life as our crucial criteria.
Do Artifacts Have Politics?
The central problem of radical technol-
ogy criticism is to understand the struc-
turing effects of technology while at the
same time avoiding determinism: to grasp
artifacts as social choices, accretions of
history and power. Winner does a great
job, and in place of the false generaliza-
tions that litter the debate he proposes the
obvious — some technologies are "inher-
ently political" and some are not. He wants
to avoid not only determinism, but denial
as well. If we see humanity as swept help-
less before the machine (whether to pro-
gress or pandemonium) we haven't a
chance of making sense of modem life.
But the un-determinism that sees tech-
nology as irrelevant to freedom and cul-
ture is just as bad, for it keeps us from
seeing the 'legislative" impacts of tech-
nology, the "ongoing process of world
making" that is the social truth of tech-
it's sometimes difficult to remember that,
before the computer-crazed days of the
late 70s, technology — "the machine" —
was often seen as both amoral and totali-
tarian. Industrialism was a mad evil that
transcended East and West, and pollution
the proper symbol of technological prow-
ess gone sour and suicideil. This was a
bit simpleminded, to be sure, but it's not
difficult to argue that it's still closer to the
truth than the atmospherics of the micro-
computer age, where Apples replace Nukes
as the symbols of the technological future,
and scientific optimism once again be-
comes the order of the day.
There have been many commentaries
on the computer age, many of them framed
with radical intent. But few have sought to
view the false promises of computeriza-
tion against the grim background of eco-
logical destabilization and nuclear terror.
Winner is an exception: he analyses the
ecological with the electronic, and sees
both within a common technological and
For Winner, technological regimes, like
institutional regimes, can be either plural-
istic or totalitarian: there are "two ways
in which artifacts can contain political
properties. First are instances in which the
invention, design and arrarigement of a
specific technological device or system be-
comes a way of settling an issue in the
affairs of a particular community .. .ex-
amples of this kind are fairly straight-
forward and easily understood. Second
are cases of what can be called 'iiiherently
political technologies,' man-made systems
that appear to require or to be strongly
compatible with particular kinds of po-
litical relationships. Arguments about
cases of this kind are much more trouble-
some and closer to the heart of the irwtter."
Some technologies are flexible, and lend
themselves to various constructions —
solar power generators, for example, can
be decentralized, but they can also be
shaped into awkward multi-megawatt
facilities, even more absurd than large
coal and oil-powered generating stations.
It is precisely because some technologies
are so flexible that their forms and con-
sequences must be understood socially, in
terms of the forces that shape their de-
sign and arrangement. Other technologies
however, aren't flexible, but rather "strong-
ly, perhaps unavoidably, liiiked to particu-
lar institutionalized patterns of power and
authority. Here the initial choice about
whether or not to adopt something is de-
cisive in regard to its consequences. There
are no alternative physical designs or ar-
rangements that would make a significant
difference; there are, furthermore, no
genuine possibilities for creative inter-
vention by different social systems —
capitalist or socialist — that could change
the intractability of the entity or signifi-
cantly alter the quality of its political
Inherently Political Technologies
The idea of technologies which lock
their human users into prestructured and
confining paths is both comf)elling and
venerable. Plato made it in Republic, and
Engels used it in On Authority, a polemic
against anarchism. According to Engels,
the necessity for rigid factory discipline is
"fixed by the authority of the steam," and
society, which he likens to a ship on high
PROCCSSED WOKLD 19
seas, must have its captain. Winner does
not disagree that some technologies are
authoritarian in just this way, but he does
shift the notion in a crucial way. For Win-
ner, it's not "technology" in the abstract
but specific technologies that are the prob-
lem. Examples must be carefully chosen.
More to the point is "the hypothesis that
the construction and day-to-day operation
of many systems of production, trans-
portation, and communications in the
nineteenth and twentieth centuries re-
quire the development of . . . large-scale,
centralized, hierarchical organizations ad-
ministered by highly skilled managers."
The matter is complicated. Technologies
can't really be separated from the insti-
tutional frameworks within which they are
grown, nor does reality restrict itself to
simple choices between flexible and author-
itarian technology. Advocates of solar
energy often claim that it is "strongly com-
patible with, but does not strictly require"
decentralized social relations; they no
longer make stronger claims. Advocates
of nuclear power have been known to
claim it to be a "flexible technology whose
adverse social effects can be fixed by
changing the design parameters of reactors
and nuclear waste disposal systems."
Do the social consequences of specific
technologies derive from unavoidable so-
cial responses to intractable properties in
the things themselves? Or are they better
seen as patterns imposed by governing
bodies, rulir\g classes, or other social or
cultural institutions? This is the important
question, and it must be asked in specific
terms about specific technologies developed
for specific purposes by specific social
groups. In the end we must learn to dis-
tinguish technologies which can potentially
be reshaped from those— like nuclear tech-
nology—for which only the abolitionist
position is acceptable.
A Search for Limits
The idea that technology should be de-
signed, and even limited, as a means of
promoting sjsecific social virtues is an old
one, being found in the works of Thoreau,
Henrey Adams, Lewis Mumford, Paul
Goodman, Murray Bookchin and a host
of other writers, most of whom are now-
adays dismissed as "romantics" and even
"pastoralists." Interestingly, recent years
have seen the revival of the notion that
circumstances can indeed justify placing
limits on given technologies. Winner lists
five reasons currently accepted as legitimate
grounds for limiting a technology:
1) It threatens public health or safety
2) It threatens some vital resource
3) It degrades the environment (air, land
4) It threatens species and wilderness areas
5) It causes sodal stresses of an exaggerated
But note how narrow these reasons are I
"Along with ongoing discussions about
ways to sustain economic growth, national
competitiveness, and prosperity, these are
the only matters of technology assessment
that the general public, decision makers,
and academics are prepared to take seri-
ously... Are there no shared ends that
matter to us any longer other than the de-
sire to be affluent while avoiding the risk
of cancer? It may be that the answer is
no. The prevailing consensus seems to
be that people love a life of high consump-
tion, tremble at the thought that it mi^t
end, and are displeased about having to
clean up the messes that modem tech-
nologies sometimes bring. To argue a
moral position convincingly these days
requires that one speak to (and not depart
from) people's love of material well being."
Winner moves on from our dismal con-
dition to the compromised and uncertain
critiques that it has engendered. Noting
a comment by Paul Goodman that his stu-
dent audiences could always be counted
on to respond excitedly to arguments that
decentralism could be more efficient than
centralized forms of social organization.
Winner notes that such an argument is
good for "catching people's attention; if
you can get away with it, it is certainly a
most convincing kind of argument. Be-
cause the idea of efficiency attracts a wide
consensus, it is sometimes used as a con-
ceptual Trojan horse by those who have
more challenging political agendas they
hope to smuggle in. But victories won in
this way are in other respects great losses.
For they affirm in our words and in our
methods that there are certain human
ends that no longer dare be spoken in pub-
lic. Lingering in that stuffy Trojan horse
too long, even soldiers of virtue eventually
Getting Down to Cases
The bulk of this book is actually very
concrete. After his pitch for a philosophy
of technology, Wiruner gets down to cases.
There's a good discussion of the Approp-
riate Technology movement, which Winner
sees (despite a few Marxist and Anarchist
exceptions) as essentially a movement for
consumer choice. "Its political theory—
build a better mousetrap I" There's a nice
snide discussion of the "hippy environ-
mentalist spacemen" at the Whole Earth
Review, and a serious review of demon-
stration-project politics and Utopianism.
There's the New Age, which begins on
page 74 and ends on 80. There's a long
and subtle discussion of decentralism, and
a frontal assault on the ideology of the
Winner spends a lot of time on "Nature,"
reviewing the many roles the concept has
played in the technology movements of
the last few decades. Nature appears as a
stock of economic goods, as an endangered
Ecosystem, as a source of intrinsic good,
and finally as a socially formed, and by
no means natural idea. Ecocatastrophe is
discussed ("Indeed, there's a certain vul-
nerability in placing the crux of one's so-
cial philosophy and policy position on the
probability of eco<atastrophe. What if
new data indicate the emergency wasn't
what you said it was? Are you then obli-
gated to apologize and fall silent?"), as are
environmental economics, ecological sur-
vivalism, and Deep Ecology. Winner's
done his homework, and he pegs each
movement pretty well. He's critical, but
This is rich ore, and well worth mining.
It's not brilliant, but perhaps there's
nothing particularly brilliant to be said
about the politics of technology. There
are, however, most assuredly a lot of
very stupid things to be said, as any cur-
sory review of the literature will show.
Few of them appear in these pages.
—by Tom Athanasiou
GRAPHIC: I.B. NELSON
MOCfSSf O WOKLD 19
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